Similar to the milk lobby’s protest against words like soymilk, a sector of the beef industry is also unhappy with how some meat alternatives are labeled. We recently sent this Q&A to explain to our members what’s going on.

Q: I heard the beef industry is asking the government to restrict meat terminology, what is this about?

A: The U.S. Cattleman’s Association is a trade association that represents beef ranchers. In February, they filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture that requests the agency redefine terms such as “beef” and “meat” to exclude plant-based and cultured meat. The Cattleman’s Association does not represent the beef industry at large and their petition even notes that large conventional meat producers such as Tyson and Cargill have invested in animal meat alternatives.

Q: Can USDA tell PBFA members how to label animal meat alternatives?

A: No. The USDA’s jurisdiction is limited to its regulatory authority under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act. These Acts convey authority only concerning animal-based meats. The USDA has no jurisdiction over products that do not contain animal parts, no matter how they are labeled. 

Q: What impact does the petition have on my business?

A: None for now.

Q: I have heard that federal meat inspectors can show up unannounced, what if this happens to me?

A: If your facility does not handle animal-based meat or poultry, you are not required to allow federal inspectors from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) into your facility.

If your facility processes animal-based meat or poultry products in addition to plant-based foods, then it can be inspected by FSIS. However, when FSIS inspectors are present in dual-jurisdiction facilities, they cannot take any action or enforcement against the FDA regulated products, including requesting any records. FSIS can only notify FDA of any concerns and ask them to take action.

Q: What about state or local-level inspections and regulators?

A: Each state law is different, but we have heard of companies making dairy alternatives being contacted by dairy regulators in certain regions of the country. In general, it’s prudent to have legal representation before allowing any regulator (federal, state, or local) into your facility for a surprise inspection or to respond to a letter from an agency claiming to have authority over your operations and/or labeling. 

Q: How is PBFA responding to the U.S. Cattleman’s Association petition?

A: We are currently evaluating a response. We have received a few requests from reporters and are responding to them.