Labeling Animal Cell Culture and Vegetarian Alternative Food Products
The industry responsible for products using traditionally harvested animal ingredients is increasing pressure on regulators to introduce labeling rules that differentiate between their products and those generated from animal cell cultures and vegetarian alternatives.
In the United States and Europe, the vegetarian alternative industry has a long history of clearly labeling the source of ingredients in its products. The rapid development of animal cell culture technology has, however, made the animal product industry reevaluate its position regarding labeling. It is concerned that as vegetarian alternative and animal cell culture products start to taste like traditionally harvested animal products, the consumer will not know the difference. The industry is now demanding laws and regulations that will prevent this confusion.
In the US, 23 states have decided to protect certain products, with eight having now passed protection laws. These are:
- Missouri – effective January 1, 2019, the law essentially requires that anyone selling a product not harvested from livestock or poultry but using the terms ‘meat’, ‘beef’, ‘chicken’ or ‘sausages’ in labels or advertising, will be fined USD 1,000 or receive a one-year jail sentence. This applies even if the product uses the terms vegetarian, vegan, etc.1
- Arkansas – House Bill 1407: “to require truth in Labeling of Agricultural Products that are edible by humans”. It restricts the terms ‘meat’, ‘meat products’, ‘pork’, ‘pork products’ and ‘poultry’ to animal harvested products. It also restricts the use of the word ‘rice’ to Oryza sativa L., Oryza glaberrima or wild rice. Infringements on labeling and advertising, for example cauliflower rice, will result in a USD 1,000 fine.2
- Mississippi – effective July 1, 2019 per S2922: “A food product that contains cultured animal tissue produced from animal cell cultures outside of the organism from which it is derived shall not be labeled as meat or a meat food product. A plant-based or insect-based food product shall not be labeled as meat or a meat food product”.3
- North Dakota – per H1400: food products made from cell cultures must be labeled accordingly. Packaging cannot be the ‘same’ or ‘deceptively similar’ to animal-based products so that they could, “mislead a reasonable person to believe the product is a meat food product.” If one does, it is considered adulterated.4
- South Dakota – per S68: a product shall be considered misbranded if its label or brand intentionally misrepresents the product as a meat food product, meat by-product or poultry. This includes products derived whole or in-part from the animal.5
- Wyoming – per S68: the terms meat and poultry are reserved for slaughtered animals and a manufacturer must clearly label cell culture products as ‘containing cell cultured product’ and clearly label plant-based products as ‘vegetarian’, ‘veggie’, ‘vegan’, ‘plant based’, etc.6
- Montana – House Bill 327 – the ‘Real Meat Act’. Prevents cell culture derived products from using the terms ‘meat’, ‘poultry’, ‘hamburger’, ‘ground beef’, ‘beef patty mix’, etc.7
- Oklahoma – per S392: terms ‘meat’, ‘poultry’, etc. can only be used for slaughtered livestock, to prevent both cell culture and plant-based products from being labeled as their animal counterparts.8
In addition, the US dairy industry is campaigning to restrict use of the terms ‘milk’, ‘yogurt’, ‘cheese’, etc. to dairy products. This would ban plant alternative products, for example oat milk, from using them. They contend that, while the vegetarian alternatives clearly indicate the product’s source, the use of these terms is misleading because specific standards apply to them. The US FDA has requested the industry to use ‘beverage’ instead of milk and ‘yogurt alternative’ or ‘cheese alternative’. These terms do, however, still use the dairy related names.
On June 14, 2017, the European Union’s Court of Justice ruled on the subject of labeling. More recently, however, on April 13, 2018 in France, Article 11 reserved the words ‘steak’, ‘filet’, ‘bacon’ and ‘sausage’ for animal products using beef and pork.9
Article 17 of Regulation 1169/2011 states, “information should be to enable consumers to identify and make appropriate use of food”. Therefore, the names used for meat products and preparations should be reserved for animal products. This basically prohibits names like ‘veggie burger’ or ‘veggie sausage’, but it would allow ‘veggie discs’ or ‘veggie tubes’.10
Much of the European debate concerns the rights of all the industries to use specific terms and whether those terms being used by the plant-based product industry cause consumer confusion. Whatever the outcome, it is certain that the market for non-meat derived products is going to continue to expand as consumers seek alternatives to animal products.
In some countries, such as Canada, the naming of these alternative items is clear as the Food and Drug Regulation B.01.100(1) clearly indicates that the words “imitation”, “substitute” or “simulated” must be as the part of the common name when a product deviates from the common name. For example, a soy-based item being sold to appear as a chicken breast properly labeled would become soy simulated chicken breast, or similar. 11
In other countries, such as Australia, this battle between animal protein and alternative proteins is still ongoing but may soon be completed as politicians are now involved and can point to what has already transpired in the USA, EU and other countries.12 These groups can also point to the truth in labeling requirements13 and that Food Safety Australia New Zealand states that these products, if designed for those aged five and under, must clearly be labeled as unsuitable as a complete milk replacement.
Animal Cell Culture Products
Adding complexity to the debate is the unique position of animal cell culture products. From a protein allergen perspective, these products have the same allergen potential as traditionally harvested meat products. In terms of the effects these products can have on consumers, therefore, they have an equal potential for causing serious risk or possibly death.
The real questions are:
- Can the consumer easily distinguish the differences between the animal protein and the vegetarian alternatives?
- Can labeling of animal cell cultured products be developed such that it identifies these products while still allowing consumers to safely consume these items without risking allergenic reaction because of confusing labelling?
It is very apparent that the industries will not come to a quick agreement without government intervention, so the governments will take action, but to what extent is unclear as this action may have unintended consequences, such as a ban on products being labeled as vegetable schnitzel.14
With a global network of experts, dedicated laboratories and a regulatory database (SGS Digicomply), SGS offers a comprehensive range of services to help manufacturers and suppliers of animal cell culture and vegetarian alternative products are safe and compliant with national and international regulations.
For the complete range of SGS services and support visit www.foodsafety.sgs.com.
Sources1Missouri Senate Bill 627
2Arkansas House Bill 1407
3Mississippi Senate Bill 2922
4North Dakota House Bill 1400
5South Dakota Senate Bill 68
6Wyoming Senate Bill 68
7Montana House Bill 327
8Oklahoma Senate Bill 392
11Canadian Food Inspection Agency
12No more almond 'milk'? Australia looks to stop 'misleading' plant-based product labelling
13Truth in labelling, weights and measures and legibility
14It's time to ban veggie schnitzel, says German minister, as he brands labels for meat-free alternatives 'misleading and unsettling'