No clarity yet on names for alternative proteins

The word ‘meat’ has come under scrutiny by food safety experts where it has been used for products not made with traditionally grown animal-based meat.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) believes that until a clear definition can be agreed on globally, these products will be difficult to police under food safety legislation.

While discussions are ongoing and legislation must be clarified by each country, the FAO has suggested that the term ‘cell-based foods’ be used for food made by cultivating animal cells in a tank, but does not require livestock or poultry to be killed.

FAO food safety officer Masami Takeuchi said proper discussions around the safety of these products could not take place if there was not agreement on what they would be called.

“If we don’t use the same words or language, we won’t know what it is we’re actually discussing.”

There were a range of names in play, including artificial, lab-grown, fake and clean meat. Takeuchi noted that some carried value judgements, while other terms such as ‘cultured’ or ‘cultivated’ could create potential confusion with existing products such as farmed fish or seafood.

“Another challenge is that several of the terms need to be used as qualifiers before the word meat to avoid being too vague. That can give rise to questions about whether the product needs to be regulated as meat. This comes with all the religious or other requirements that this type of food brings with it in some countries. How do these new foods fit into halaal and kosher dietary rules, for example?”

South Africa’s Department of Health published draft regulations earlier this year relating to the labelling and advertising of foodstuffs. This included legislation on alternative protein products, which stated that products containing less than 25% meat may not be called meat.

Vegetarian products carrying the word ‘meat’ were abundant in South Africa, and court cases were ongoing between the red meat industry and vegetarian interest groups. Louis Visagie, CEO of the Food Safety Agency, said a lack of legislation left many loopholes that placed food safety at risk.

“We have no problem with plant-based protein products, but they should be labelled and marketed correctly.”