Ingredient Labels

Rachel Gabel
for The Fence Post

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-NY) and Roger Marshall (D-KS).

The bill, which has been applauded by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA), 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 FDA’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.

In a release, NCBA president Jennifer Houston said, “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. “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.”