Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Mincing words: the fight to define meat

Real or fake? The debate around the classification of what constitutes meat in the United States is heating up Real or fake? The debate around the classification of what constitutes meat in the United States is heating up
13 Jun
2018
The US meat industry is attempting to officially define ‘meat’ as a slew of new, clean meats move closer to the dinner table

What makes meat, meat? This question is bothering all sides of the US meat industry, amid a flurry of research and development in what’s being called ‘lab-grown’ meat. The high-tech food is made by replicating small amounts of animal stem cells. While techniques vary from lab to lab, many of the start-up companies behind the research share the same goal – to take large-scale animal farming and slaughter out of the meat production equation. Hence their self-given title: ‘clean meats’.

‘These products appeal to consumers increasingly conscious of the health, ethical and environmental impacts of their shopping,’ says Malte Rödl, who researches meat alternatives at the University of Manchester. ‘Having the word “meat” on the label will fuel costumer expectations.’

Though the expensive technology means lab-grown meats are not for sale yet, they are expected be on shelves within the decade. The existing meat industry – worth an annual $860billion – is torn over how best to face its future competitors. The first shots were fired by the meat producers. In February, the US Cattlemen’s Association filed a 15-page petition to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reserve the terms ‘meat’ and ‘beef’ for products that were ‘derived directly from animals raised and slaughtered’. Confusingly, the more-powerful National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, has now countered that petition, stating lab-cultured meats are ‘derived from parts of a carcass, in this case stem cells, and therefore fall within the statutory definition of meat food products’. However, this too is probably a tactical move to hamper development of the new foods by bringing them under the same ‘stringent’ food safety inspection standards as meat from a slaughterhouse.

While meat consumption is expected to hit record highs in 2018, the reactions from cattle associations show they sense future disruption. ‘In the US, livestock producers are fiercely defensive of their terms, particularly those pertaining to specific animals such as “pork” and “beef”,’ says Edward Mills, professor of meat science at the Pennsylvania State University. ‘The producers are going to get out ahead of this to reduce the use of those words.’ Mills predicts that the USDA will begin to set significant restrictions on the definition of meat. ‘That being said,’ he adds, ‘these restrictions may loosen over time when the cultured meat companies have products they feel confident fighting for.’

Meat processing companies, on the other hand, are more flexible about their definition of meat. Processing giants Cargill and Tyson are investing millions into the cultured food start-ups, putting them at odds with their traditional producers. ‘Some farmers see that as a betrayal,’ says Mills. ‘As the new products get closer to release, this is a debate that is going to get more intense and complex.’

This was published in the June 2018 edition of Geographical magazine

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PEOPLE...

Development

Vast quantities of sand are being deposited along a stretch…

Development

The world’s first hydrogen-powered boat to tour the world, Energy…

Cultures

An experiment that asked different sized groups to invent a…

Explorers

Commemorating a mining tragedy that shocked the nation a decade…

Development

Scientists at the Plastic Health Summit taking place in Amsterdam…

Cultures

Canadian researchers have found that plastic tea bags, common to…

Development

The settlement of Hasankeyf, dating back thousands of years, will…

Development

We took to the streets of Westminster to take a…

Development

The British government today announced a new aid package to…

Explorers

In this unique and enthralling new book, explorer and survivalist…

I’m a Geographer

Dan Richards is an artist and a writer. His fourth…

Development

‘Abolitionist climate justice’ is an evolving movement that aims to…

Explorers

Felicity Aston follows ‘ice pilots’ along a frozen river gorge…

Cultures

In a landmark case, Australia’s High Court has awarded damages…

I’m a Geographer

Vatosoa is the National Coordinator of the MIHARI Network, an…

Cultures

A Canadian federal employment office will no longer hold the…

Development

A landmark report from the IPCC definitively states that the…

Development

Guadaloupe Marengo is head of the Human Rights Defenders Team…

Explorers

Despite being among the first Western explorers to uncover southwestern…