A bill was introduced in Congress last week that would codify the definition of beef and uphold truthful labeling on alternative protein products that currently refer to themselves as meat (even though there is ZERO meat in them). TCFA strongly supports this bill, H.R. 4881, and urges Members of Congress to sponsor and support it.
The bill is pretty simple.
First, it establishes a federal definition of beef that applies to food labels. It also preserves the congressional intent of the Beef Promotion and Research Act that was signed into law as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. Section (3) of that bill clearly defined the terms "beef" and "beef products," and although these terms were codified in 1985, they don't apply for labeling purposes. The Real MEAT Act would fix that.
Second, the bill affirms the misbranding provisions that are already on the books. These provisions were put in place over 50 years ago to prevent consumer confusion, and that intent has not changed.
The problem is that many consumers believe plant-based meat is healthier, less processed and overall better for the environment. A quick comparison of the ingredient labels of both products indicates those beliefs couldn't be further from the truth.
Third, the bill strengthens enforcement of mislabeling laws. Currently the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency that oversees plant-based proteins, does not enforce mislabeling until a product has already come to market. This is, in-part, because FDA does not require the approval of labels on foods under their jurisdiction before they hit the shelves. The Real MEAT Act would change that by requiring FDA to notify USDA, in writing, when they determine a product is mislabeled. If FDA does not take enforcement action within 30 days, the Secretary of Agriculture can step in and take action.
The bottom line is this: Consumers want to know what is in their food, and rightfully so. The beef community has worked for decades to establish beef's strong reputation among consumers, so it is not surprising that imitation products would try to ride the coattails of beef's popularity. But consumers deserve more than deceptive labels, and this bill would give them the factual information they need to make their own purchasing decisions.