Tracking the comments on cell-based meat labeling

USDA’s consideration of consumer disclosure related to lab-grown meat can easily be distinguished from other debates related to consumer knowledge of production methods. For example, the ongoing public debate over GMOs differs drastically from the present question. While GMOs alter crop efficiency and resiliency, the production practices remain the same: seed is planted in the soil and grown, then harvested. Lab-grown meat has very little in common with traditionally raised and harvested meat. The production practices have no similarity.

Because these products have yet to reach consumers, no economic hardship would exist related to adjusting labels to satisfy heightened requirements or adjusting labels in a way that may create consumer confusion and loss in market share. The best time to establish these standards is now — the longer USDA waits to effectively establish standard of identity and labeling requirements for these products, the more costly compliance will be for regulated entities and consumers.

…NCBA’s research found that terms that alluded to how the meat is made resulted in greater understanding of the product, such as “cell-cultured” and “lab-grown.” Both terms elicited a partial or full understanding of the product from consumers, prior to defining it. Further, both names performed directionally higher when consumers were asked to score them on their fit with the definition provided and their ease of understanding them. Last, “lab-grown meat” was selected more often for being easy to understand.

Conversely, “cultivated” meat ranked highest in terms of sounding most appealing but scored second lowest in terms of fitting best with the definition provided. NCBA’s consumer survey substantiates misleading terms like “cultured,” “clean,” or “cultivated” fail to adequately describe the production practices to the everyday consumer. In determining how to most effectively name this class of products, the agency must focus on using clean and explicit language, as opposed to terms that have varying definitions.

Terms like “cultivated” and “synthetic,” that are likely less familiar to consumers in general, potentially create unintended perceptions. For example, significantly more consumers perceived “cultivated meat” as being raised on farms or ranches compared to the other names. As a result, when selecting which attributes that apply to that term, more consumers selected things like “is safe to eat” or “is natural,” while selecting things like “is processed” significantly lower than the other names. The term “cultivated meat,” consequently, is being perceived more positively—driven by the fact that more consumers thought it is raised on farms or ranches. “Synthetic meat,” on the other hand, seems to portray to consumers an enhanced meat product, or product altered to be different than traditional meat. Findings showed significantly more consumers agreed “synthetic meat” was processed and high in protein compared to other terms. These two terms should be avoided when defining this product due to their unintended and potentially inaccurate perceptions.

…Finally, “cultivated” is a term that may be effectively applied to any animal protein product, or any food product for that matter, and fails to distinguish cell-cultured protein from traditionally harvested meat products.

NCBA recommends USDA adopt “lab-grown” as an unambiguous description for these products. Unlike the terms “cultured,” “clean” or “cultivated,” “lab-grown” provides a clear and unambiguous description that effectively distinguishes the product from traditionally harvested meat. NCBA also supports “artificially grown” or “artificially cultured” as alternatives. “Artificial” and “grown” are words used in the Webster’s definition of “cultured” and leaves little room for misinterpretation among consumers.