Ingredient and Origin Labeling bill and resolution
The Real Marketing Edible Artificials Truthfully Act of 2019, known as the Real MEAT Act of 2019, has been introduced by House members Anthony Brindisi, D-N.Y., and Roger Marshall, R-Kan.
The bill, which has been applauded by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the United States Cattlemen’s Association, will, according to a release from the NCBA, codify the definition of beef for labeling purposes by establishing a federal definition of beef that applies to food labels and by preserving the Congressional intent of the Beef Promotion and Research Act; reinforce existing misbranding provisions to eliminate consumer confusion through the use of the Food and Drug Administration’s misbranding provisions for false or misleading labels, will prevent consumer confusion with alternative protein products, and will clarify the imitation nature of these alternative protein products; and enhance the federal government’s ability to enforce the law by requiring the FDA notify the USDA if an imitation meat product is determined to be misbranded with enforcement action granted to the Secretary of Agriculture if FDA fails to do so.
According to a summary provided by the NCBA, alternative protein products that “sizzle and bleed” like real meat are proliferating the marketplace, marketed under the guise of a product superior to real meat. It is these “flagrantly deceptive labeling practices” and the FDA’s failure to initiate meaningful enforcement action against a host of legally misbranded products for decades, that have led to a de facto loophole allowing a niche industry to exist with marketing relying solely upon deception.
“A growing number of fake meat products are clearly trying to mislead consumers about what they’re trying to get them to buy,” said NCBA President and Tennessee cattlewoman Jennifer Houston wrote in a news release. “Consumers need to be protected from deceptive marketing practices, and cattle producers need to be able to compete on a fair, level playing field. We want to thank Congressmen Brindisi and Marshall for leading the way on this very important issue.”
The sale of uncooked Impossible Burgers in the meat case of several grocery chains prompted a letter to Dennis Keefe, Ph.D., the director of the Office of Food Additive Safety at the FDA from the Center for Food Safety. In the letter, Ryan Talbott, staff attorney for the center, said such sales are unlawful without a valid color additive regulation, insisting a recall notice should be made to remove uncooked Impossible Burgers from grocery stores. Additionally, he implores the FDA to take immediate action to remove 21 C.F.R 520 (soy leghemoglobin, the ingredient that gives a “bloody” appearance to the plant-based burger), from the Code of Federal Regulations until objections filed are resolved and a valid regulation is in place.
“Consumers should be able to rely on the information on food labels they see on the shelves to be truthful and not deceptive,” Rep. Marshall said. “For years now, alternative protein products have confused many consumers with misleading packaging and creative names for products. With this bill, consumers can be sure that the meat products they are buying are indeed real meat.”
“American families have a right to know what’s in their food,” Rep. Brindisi said. “Accurate labeling helps consumers make informed decisions and helps ensure families have access to a safe, abundant, affordable food supply. This bill is about safety and transparency, and will make sure that meat-lovers and vegans alike have the transparency and honest labels that can allow customers to make their own decisions.”
Lia Biondo, director of policy and outreach for the USCA, said the group will be urging co-sponsors of the House and bill introduction in the Senate.
“USCA members have played a critical role in the effort to ensure Truth in Labeling, not only on beef products Born, Raised and Harvested in the U.S.A., but also on alternative protein products,” Biondo said. “The Real MEAT Act satisfies part of USCA’s ask to USDA FSIS in its 2018 petition for rulemaking by defining ‘beef’ as a product that is derived exclusively from the flesh of a bovine animal. USCA is pleased to see Rep. Brindisi and Rep. Marshall join the effort in establishing a federal beef definition and clear, transparent regulations governing the labeling of plant-based proteins.”
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.D-Mont., introduced a resolution supporting the reestablishment of a country-of-origin labeling (COOL) program which was repealed in 2015. According to a press release from the USCA, the introduction follows months of coordination and collaboration by the senator, pulling together consumer and producer stakeholders to push forth this labeling solution.
USCA Director Emeritus issued the following statement:
“Consumers are increasingly seeking out more information on the products they choose to feed their families. The U.S. produces the highest quality, safest, and most eco-conscious beef in the world. U.S. cattle producers deserve the opportunity to showcase their product in the retail marketplace.
“We’re incredibly grateful for Sen. Jon Tester continuing to champion Truth in Labeling efforts through the introduction of this resolution. We ask other senators to follow his lead and choose to stand with American consumers and ranching families.”
The resolution recognizes that U.S. farmers and ranchers raise the best meat in the world, consumers should have the right to knowingly buy American products, and all stakeholders benefit from transparency. The resolution goes on to say that Congress supported COOL in the 2008 farm bill because 87 percent of consumers want to know the country of origin of the meat they purchase and its repeal reduced the competitive advantage of products born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S. The resolution reads that American food safety standards are higher than in other countries and foreign commodities, including beef and pork, are misleadingly labeled “Product of USA” if they are packed or processed in the U.S. Technological advancements, the resolution said, are in place to accurately and efficiently identify the origin of beef and pork without costly segregation, giving producers and consumers the ability to differentiate between American and foreign products. Finally, it reads that “Congress supports legislation to reinstate County of Origin labeling for pork and beef to allow consumers to make an informed and free choice about where their food comes.”
R-CALF USA applauded the effort and said the 2013 implementation of COOL coincided with stronger cattle prices.
“Sen. Tester’s resolution calling on Congress to reinstate COOL for beef and pork is the start we have been waiting for to help us encourage Congress to once again provide us the tools we need to compete in our own domestic market,” said Mike Schultz, the group’s COOL Committee Chair. ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 392-4410.