Chow Line: Meat vs. ‘Meat?’

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What’s the difference between meat, “clean meat” and plant-based “meat?” It’s all getting a bit confusing.

This is a very interesting question that is on the mind of many livestock producers and food makers recently thanks to a new law in at least one state that legally defines what constitutes “meat.”

Last week, lawmakers in Missouri became the first nationwide to create new provisions in their state’s Meat Advertising Law that require that any food or meat product that is called “meat” must be derived from livestock or poultry flesh. 

The new provisions, which will begin to be enforced Jan. 1, 2019, say that meat products that aren’t derived from animal flesh must include a statement on the product packaging that says if the product is “plant-based,” “veggie,” “lab-grown” or “lab-created,” or if it is “made from plants” or created “in a lab,” according to a statement from the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

So what’s the difference?

Plant-based meat is made from plant-based proteins including soy and peas. Clean meat, which has also been called “cultured meat” or “lab-grown meat,” is made of cultured animal tissue cells, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

There is nothing new about plant-based “meat-like” products, but under meat inspection, names of meat products must meet the standard of identity that has been established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service, said Lynn Knipe, an associate professor of food and animal sciences in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

Currently, these products could not be labeled as meat and would have to be labeled with a name such as “imitation meat,” which would not be attractive to most consumers, he said. 

“The problem is that it is not clear whether USDA or FDA will regulate the production of the cultured meat-like products, which was the motivation for the new Missouri law,” Knipe said. “Clean, or ‘cultured,’ meat apparently has been given the name ‘clean’ as some people feel that this product is better for the environment and that the manufacturing of this product removes the ‘ick’ factor that some associate with meat processing.”

But the use of the word “clean” is very misleading, he said. 

“As consumers learn about the extensive processing that is involved in making these ‘lab-grown’ products, the ‘ick’ factor returns quickly for some,” Knipe said.  “This comes at a time when consumers are claiming to want natural, minimally processed food products, but the truth is that these cultured or lab-grown methods do not meet any of the requirements for natural and minimally processed foods.”

The issue of meat and meat product labeling is significant, considering that U.S. consumption of beef, pork, chicken and turkey has increased to a projected 214.8 pounds per person compared with 210.8 pounds per person in 2014, according to USDA. Meanwhile, the meat-substitute industry generated some $4.2 billion last year, according to Allied Market Research.

The United States Cattlemen’s Association filed a petition with USDA requesting that the agency establish a food labeling requirement that the word “beef” only be used to refer to products that come from cattle that were born, raised and harvested in the traditional manner.

And at least four organizations, including the plant-based meat company Tofurky, the Good Food Institute, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, have filed a federal lawsuit against Missouri’s new law provisions.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Lynn Knipe, an associate professor of food science and technology in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

Tracy Turner
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Lynn Knipe
College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University