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Meat Archive

Lab Grown Meat

August 3, 2016

MeatWe will probably be eating lab-grown meat one day soon. So long as it can withstand a few hours in the smoker, we approve. But at the risk of spoiling a good thing with legality, what are we going to call it? FDA and USDA regulate the words we use for various foods, and there are established definitions for meat and poultry. 9 C.F.R. 381.1 defines poultry as “any domesticated bird”, and a “poultry product” as anything derived from a poultry carcass. Red meat is “the part of the muscle of any cattle, sheep, swine, or goats which is skeletal”.

What are your thoughts on how we shall define lab-grown meat?

Food Law and Policy Weekly Review, February 23 -27

February 27, 2015


  • news-boy1There is a fantastic article in Inc.com on the rise of GT’s Kombucha, the company credited with creating the kombucha product category we know today. They hit a few legal snags along the way, which we will discuss in a blog post next week, but otherwise it’s an inspiring story of a bootstrapped, profitable,  privately and closely held company with a dominant market share.
  • Farmanddairy.com describes the regulatory challenges faced by  nonprofit seed libraries, where farmers, gardeners, and growers can exchange self-pollinating seeds rather than buy them from the catalogue or the hardware store. Laws in several states make no distinction between these small, informal groups and larger commercial seed companies – both are regulated as seed distributors and must comply with inspection and labeling requirements.
  • A California lawmaker is considering a law to include warning labels on soft drinks. The label will state: “contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”
  • KVNO News does a really good job of explaining why Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) is so important for farmers and ranchers. As you might know, in October the World Trade Organization determined that US COOL labeling constituted an unfair restrain on world trade. COOL is important to US farmers, who understand that that consumers will have a natural bias for meat raised domestically. COOL is less important to meat packers, who prefer to fill their orders with meat produced as cheaply and efficiently as possible, no matter where it is raised. Read the whole thing.
  • Fun fact: AMTRAK’s food and beverage service lost an average of $87 Million in the years between 2006 and 2012. A bill before the House will require AMTRAK to eliminate the operating loss within 5 years.
  • Agriview covers the story of a farmer who fled falling prices for commodity milk and started producing artisanal cheeses for the direct market.
  • NPR delves once again into immigration status and farm labor. One farmer interviewed for the piece tacitly admits that he prefers to have the immigration status of his workers remain indeterminate. Farming, he says, is an industry where illegal immigrants can work and remain off of the radar. If they were to become legal, “that pressure is off. Now they can go to the cities and look for construction jobs, or manufacturing jobs” and thus create acute employment problem for him. That’s admirably candid of him, but unfortunate for the laborer.
  • Michele writes about our declining appetite for red meat and the factors leading to our decreasing consumption in Al Jazeera America.
  • Finally, an extended read for the weekend fireside. Washingtonian writes about the spectacular implosion of Serendipity 3 in 2014. It all started with a bad partnership agreement, then some stuff got broken and everybody got mad and someone almost went to jail but then no one ate ice cream anymore and it was sad.

Protein Politics: Vegetarian Meat Company Gets Booted From Canada

October 31, 2014

by Michele Simon

As a lawyer who has called out plenty of transgressions by unethical food companies, it’s frustrating when the law gets it wrong. That’s exactly what happened to the alternative meat company Field Roast, based in Seattle, but also selling products to our neighbors to the north. That is, until the Canadian government informed Field Roast that the company’s products were mislabeled. Not only that, the products also had to be tested — wait for it — on live animals.

Here is how Field Roast’s blog explains the situation:

The regulations rule that we are making a “simulated meat product” and need to add this language to our labels. The standards for a “simulated meat product” require a Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER) study (conducted using live animals) to evaluate the protein in relation to animal meats.

Let me get this straight: A company making an alternative to animal foods is supposed to test their products on live animals to prove the products are similar to animal foods? The company’s CEO David Lee explains his understandable dismay: “We’re driven to make these foods because we feel very strongly about having compassion for animals.” Hello. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency also wants Field Roast to add chemical supplements and vitamins for fortification, which Lee finds “offensive.” As he should.

grainmeatAnother irony is that the type of protein test results Canada requires does not currently exist because as Field Roast explains, they make a “protein-rich vegetarian sausage entirely from wheat, vegetables and real ingredients”, as opposed to soy or other more recognized proteins.

Apparently a “competitor” made a complaint, and that’s how this whole Kafkaesque episode got started. There is no safety issue here (current products can remain in stores until they run out), only a dumb regulation that sounds suspiciously like it was written by meat lobbyists. For example, a “simulated meat product” that resembles sausage must have “a total protein content of not less than 11 per cent” and  “a fat content of not more than 25 per cent”. Why are these foods being compared to meat for nutrition content? Who else would benefit from such laws other than an industry threatened by competing products?

This situation is a sad example of how an innovative company can get caught up in nonsensical regulations intended to benefit the status quo. This problem will only get worse with more alternative animal products going mainstream. For example, plant-based innovations such as egg-less “Just Mayo” from Hampton Creek arebecoming more popular. Large chains like Walmart, Target, Kroger, Safeway, Costco, and even Dollar Tree are signing deals to carry Just Mayo, according to TIME. With this level of success, innovation and regulation will inevitably collide. And run-ins with the powerful animal food industry will escalate. Right on cue, the American Egg Board launched a PR response to the “huge threat” Hampton Creek poses to Big Egg.

Field Roast says they are trying to work things out with the Canadian government, and let’s hope they do. Meanwhile, an unhappy Field Roast customer in Toronto has started a Change.org petition, in which he is asking (among other things) for his government to eliminate the testing requirement, as well as to allow companies to use common names such as “milk” and “meat” on vegetarian products. The issue of not being able to name alternative animal products what companies would like to is also a huge problem in the United States, and I will soon write more about that.

Yet another reminder that new and growing food companies should be engaging with food lawyers, at every stage of their development, to protect against these sorts of risks.

Country Of Origin Labeling for Meat

September 25, 2013

On September 11, 2013, a U.S. district judge refused to stop the USDA from requiring more specific country-of-origin labeling (COOL)  for meat sold in U.S. stores. Formerly, federal regulations required U.S. retailers to label a product’s country or countries of origin (i.e. “Product of U.S.A.” or “Product of Canada and U.S.A.”). Newly-amended COOL rules, which are scheduled to take effect in November, require retailers to separately identify each country where an animal was born, raised, and slaughtered. See 7 C.F.R 65.300.  These new rules, which apply to muscle cuts of beef (including veal), lamb, chicken, goat, and pork, also prohibit commingling meats in the same retail package from animals with different born, raised, and slaughtered country combinations.

The USDA has explained these changes provide consumers with more clarity on where their food comes from and bring the U.S. into compliance with World Trade Organization (WTO) requirements.

"Let's see some ID, buddy"

“Let’s see some ID, buddy”

The judge’s decision came in a lawsuit initiated earlier this year by U.S. and Canadian meat industry groups challenging the COOL amendments. Among other issues, the groups argue the new COOL rules exceed USDA’s authority and unconstitutionally compel speech in violation of the First Amendment. The court found that neither of these challenges are likely to succeed at trial. Notably, this decision did not decide or end the lawsuit. It merely denied the groups’ request to stop the new regulations from coming into effect while the overall case is  decided. Therefore, retailers will have to comply with the new COOL rules by November.

The plaintiffs claim that compliance with the regulations will be costly. That is because the rules effectively will ban commingling of animals purchased from ranchers in different countries, which is a common practice in our food system. They estimate that it will cost the industry at least $200 million to build new pens to segregate animals and alter production processes. In that respect, smaller packers have a natural advantage over larger conglomerates in that they will not have similar segregation challenges.

Bear in mind that beef and pork from foreign-source animals only accounts for an estimated 4-7% of the overall beef and pork production in the United States. See Complaint. However, because most foreign-sourced production occurs primarily along U.S.-Canadian and U.S. -Mexican borders, producers in those areas face most financial burden.  In this way, the COOL amendments incentivize U.S. meat producers to limit production inventory to animals born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S.

Accordingly, Mexican and Canadian ranchers now fear a serious drop in business if American producers stop purchasing foreign-sourced animals to avoid COOL’s costs. Both countries have already threatened trade sanctions in response. Canada’s government said it would ask the WTO for permission to impose up to $1 billion in tariffs on U.S. products ranging from meat and apples to jewelry and furniture if the new regulations go into effect.

New Meat Labeling Claims Available to Non-GMO Livestock Farmers

July 3, 2013

As the New York Times reported recently, USDA recently approved the use of the third-party Non-GMO Project verification seal on labels for meat raised on a GMO-free diet. If a product contains meat or poultry, the label must be pre-approved by USDA. And this is the first time that USDA has approved a “non-GMO” label claim. USDA initially rejected the label submitted by Mindful Meats, which included the Non-GMO Project seal, because the agency had no rule in place for handling “GMO-free” claims. However, after reviewing the Non-GMO Project’s certification procedures, USDA changed its mind.

UnknownThis story highlights the complications food producers can face in trying to market their products as GMO free. Like Mindful Meats’ products, foods increasingly are labeled with  statements that they are made without genetically engineered ingredients, and many carry the seal of the Non-GMO Project. But, in many circumstances, USDA and FDA do not consider such claims to be appropriate.

Importantly, USDA’s decision to allow the Non-GMO Project seal reflects only a determination that the seal is accurate and not misleading for products that have been verified by the Non-GMO Project. The decision does not reflect a broader policy change on “no GMO” claims.  In fact, USDA has no regulation or policy defining when “no GMO” claims are permissible. And, without a regulatory definition in place, USDA does not allow such labeling claims, even for certified organic products, unless they can be verified. Thus, manufacturers of USDA-regulated products who have not gone through Non-GMO Project’s verification process are likely to have GMO-free labeling claims rejected.

Furthermore, manufacturers of FDA-regulated foods must be careful to ensure that their “no GMO” claims are verifiable and not misleading. In 2001, FDA issued guidance to industry in which it warned that “no GMO” type claims may be misleading and, therefore, illegal. For example, FDA stated that “GMO free” claims would be misleading because trace amounts of bioengineered material may be present. FDA also said that “non-GMO” statements would be misleading if they imply that the product is superior to ones that contain genetically engineered ingredients. Even though FDA’s guidance does not have the force of law, it signals the position the agency may take in enforcement proceedings.

Thus, USDA’s decision does not clear regulatory hurdles for most manufacturers to use “non-GMO” type claims. However, it may cause more meat and poultry processors to seek the Non-GMO Project verification.

Lab-Grown Meat: Food Law Says You Can’t Call It Meat

September 10, 2012

In recent food news, CNN writes of groundbreaking innovation that has certainly been turning heads: laboratory-grown meat. Scientists have developed technology capable of creating tiny masses of muscle tissue from small amounts of live-animal cells, with the hope these “lumps” could eventually become meat for human consumption.

Whether or not this gets your hunger rolling, lab-meat growers have made a strong case for the product premised upon its advantages over traditional methods of meat-harvesting. First, lab-grown meat avoids the costs and controversies associated with animal slaughter. Producing lab-grown meat is also more sustainable, with much less environmental impact than typical meat production (e.g. less greenhouse-gas emissions, little-to-no land/water requirement, less waste). Food companies endorsing this meat are hoping to make it a “niche” product for “eco-conscious” people who abstain from meat for ethical reasons.

However, a major issue remains of what exactly these food companies will be able to name this type of product.

The federal government has in codified the definitions of some very common food items for marketing and inspection purposes. For example, under 21 U.S.C. § 321, “butter” must be made of milk and/or cream containing at least 80% milk fat. Under 21 U.S.C. § 1033(g), an “egg” is defined as the “shell egg” of the domesticated chicken, turkey, duck, goose, or guinea. These food definitions are generally called “standards of identity”.

The federal definition of meat was codified in 1907 and has remained untouched since. According to the FDA, “meat food product” encompasses “any product . . .  which is made wholly or in part from any meat or other portion of the carcass of any cattle, sheep, swine, or goats, excepting products which contain meat or other portions of such carcasses only in a relatively small proportion . . . “ 21 U.S.C. § 601(j).

But what about if I, as a food innovator, want to market a low-fat butter with less than 80% milk fat, or sell pheasant eggs, or create lab-grown meat that started out as a “relatively small proportion” of an animal carcass? FOr example, a plain reading of § 601(j) leaves the impression that lab-grown beef created primarily from a bundle of bovine cells will not fit this definition. All of these innovations would be precluded from using common definitions of foods during marketing.

If it cannot be called “meat”, lab grown meat will have to be marketed using something else. It is not hard to imagine the marketing hurdles this will put in the path of its early entrepreneurs.

Broader food law point: food regulations were not written with innovation in mind. Almost every new food idea inevitably crashes into the established rules of the industry. Legal compliance should be part of any product launch or new food idea.

By Gabriella Agostinelli. Follow me on Twitter @foodlawgal


Why You Need a Lawyer to Make Food, Vol. 1

March 26, 2012

All this week I will be posting in-depth about the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) ban on certain hog species within the state. In case you have missed a beat or two, Michigan is trying to keep its wild hog population under control by issuing a series of broadly-worded restrictions on commercial producers of swine that exhibit an arbitrary set of visual characteristics. This being America, the Land of Big Ag, the regulations disproportionately burden small-scale and independent farmers, namely those looking to inject diversity in the market by producing and selling heritage breeds.  As the latest attempt by a regulatory agency to restrict an alternative agricultural practice, this is pretty newsworthy stuff if you are into food freedom, small-scale agriculture, or good food.

We begin this week-long saga with a picture of this little troublemaker here:

This corpulent fellow is a Mangalitsa, a lard type hog imported from Europe and commercially grown by a handful of dedicated and conscientious domestic breeders. He’s different. He’s sustainably raised. He’s delicious, and he must not be subjected to clumsy regulation, for he can fight back.

Mosefund Farm in Branchville, New Jersesy is now the largest breeder of Mangalitsa in the United States. They are also the ambitious visionaries behind the formation of the American Mangalitsa Breeders Association (AMBA), the non-profit corporation which represents the farmers that grow Mangalitsa. Mosefund and I created the Association to help its members collectively market the breed and collectively bear regulatory burdens, both so that Mangalitsa breeders could better compete with other breeds as well as with commodity pork. Believe it or not, this is an unfortunate truth about farming in America. Small-scale farmers actually need organizational and logistical support to share compliance costs. Growing heritage breeds is particularly challenging. For example, even the smallest farms must comply with lengthy federal regulation of breed-specific marketing claims made on product labels. Dealing with regulations like this, which were written for gigantic industrial farms, necessitates cost sharing. We envisioned  the Association as the perfect vehicle for economically providing compliance advice or contesting legislation that can affect the breed.

Fortunately for the breeders of Mangalitsa, they had this organization in place when the DNR passed its rules. The first official act of the Association was to submit a letter of complaint to the Michigan DNR concerning the affect that its ham-handed regulation (see what I did there?) would have on Mangalitsa growers within the state.

Subsequent posts throughout the week will discuss the Michigan regulations themselves, as well as the  moves made by the Association to protect the interests of its membership. Stay tuned…

The Dairy Market, Price Fixing, and Milk Cooperatives

February 1, 2012

Back in October, Cooperatives Working Together, a national dairy cooperative, had been named in a civil anti-trust suit stemming from its Herd Retirement Program. The program paid cooperative members to turn healthy cows into Army meat retire their least productive dairy cows, which had the intended effect of limiting supply. The program coincided with a rare period of stabilization in national milk prices (though the ‘causation vs correlation’ thing is probably not certain yet). Once upon a time, CWT justified members’ participation in the program under the federal anti-trust exemption offered to cooperative members by the Capper Volstead Act.

A fantastic article appearing today in City Pages argues that CWT’s use of the Capper Volstead Act was in actuality an illegal attempt to manipulate the nationwide price of milk. It’s a long article, but a worthwhile read whether you are a farmer or a milk drinker.

Writers Andy Mannix and Mike Mullen did a superb job giving us a comprehensive understanding of the milk industry that doesn’t require an Ag Econ degree to understand. They also tracked down some great sources for the piece, too. “The law offers limited exemption from federal anti-trust laws, but it’s not a free pass to manipulate the market”, one handsome devil was quoted as saying.

For the law geeks in the crowd, this is a great Capper Volstead case to follow. Big coop cases are rare. As this train-wreck unfolds, we’ll get a Haley’s Comet opportunity to see who wins, and how.

The Deregulation of Slaughter

September 21, 2011

Once again, The Atlantic has a very thoughtful article on local food, this time on the advent of legal backyard slaughter of livestock in Oakland, California. This article from the Oakland Tribune is as close to planning and zoning meeting minutes as I could obtain in the public domain. Together, they make for a good point/counterpoint on one community’s answer to the problem of livestock slaughter.

It is difficult to get meat processed at a federally inspected facility. There are severe processing bottlenecks all over the country. (California has very limited capacity according to these USDA maps.) The shortages hit the small, local producers the hardest. Some of my clients have to schedule their slaughterhouse appointments eight or nine months out, sometimes even before their livestock are born.

The Oakland ordinance is an imperfect solution to address the limitations of the current processing regime. This is not a practical alternative to Tyson Tender-Strips. Killing your own chickens to barter for your neighbor’s cheese wheels is a sentimental solution to a systemic inflexibility in the food system. The inflexibility is killing the local food movement.

Alternative agriculture, like local food for example, is about business development. It is about building the infrastructure needed to supply a new kind of consumer. This of course requires new facilities built on a small scale. It also requires investments in human capital and skills, like artisanal butchery.

Butchery is a skill. It takes training and experience to safely, humanely, and efficiently turn livestock into cuts of meat. It is not something you can do yourself with a hatchet in the garage.

Oakland’s new zoning laws are potentially ephemeral – an alternative food system which is created by fiat can be eliminated by fiat. If backyard slaughter turns out to be a fad or if neighbors object, in two years the ordinance can change. It is harder to be whimsical when jobs are at stake or when capital has been invested. If Oakland was serious about creating a truly local food system, it could give a tax break or a zoning variance to a small-scale local processor licensed under state law. It could create a grant for the education and training of a professional, artisanal butcher. Jobs, training, and infrastructure make changes in the food system intractable.