02 May 2019- It’s the elephant in the room—plant and cell-based meat alternatives. Everyone is talking about it and many are unsure what to do about it. Attendees at the 2019 Urner Barry Executive Conference heard from Alyssa Rebensdorf, Counsel at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, on what some of the regulatory implications of this growing trend look like.

To put it in perspective, yearly growth of plant-based meats went from 6 percent in 2017 to 24 percent in 2018. During the same time, animal meat saw a 2 percent growth rate, according to Nielsen. However, meat sales total $89.4 billion while plant-based alternatives accounted for around $1 billion.

“It’s not a direct dollar for dollar threat,” says Rebensdorf. Eating meat is still the norm. In fact, when introducing the concept of cell-based meat products, 55 percent of consumers surveyed said they would “absolutely not” purchase cell-based meat and poultry alternatives.

However, alternatives to traditional protein is still a growing trend and one to watch closely.

So—what is meat? The Federal Meat Inspection Act has defined this. The 113-year-old law references the word “carcass” which, as Rebensdorf notes, is where the fight will be. Carcass implies a dead animal, which cell-based products do not fit the criteria for.

Who regulates? The FDA and the USDA will share oversight. The USDA will be the one to ultimately manage labeling.

Interestingly enough, seven states have passed meat labeling laws to deal with the plant and cell-based “meat” situation. In Missouri, not only have they instituted a fine for labeling non-animal meat products as meat, but Rebensdorf says they’ve also criminalized it by adding jail time. That has turned some heads.

Now, Rebensdorf says it’s a waiting game to see when the federal government via the USDA will step in and potentially challenge laws made at the state level on labeling.

What’s next? “More lawsuits,” says Rebensdorf.

Associations like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) are fighting hard against “fake meat” being labeled in the same manner as animal meat.

Eventually, Rebensdorf says to expect litigation around the claims of plant-based alternatives such as health and environmental benefits.

Rebensdorf presented at the 2019 Urner Barry Executive Conference at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.