Accurate labelling of products is an important aspect of the food industry and the meat sector is no exception. France recently passed a law banning the use of meat related terminology on plant based meat substitutes, and the first few months of 2018 saw several UK based processors fall foul of regulations on date labelling of cold and frozen stored meats. The issues are widespread, from date labelling practices to ingredient and provenance information all the way to the decisions around how to refer to lab grown meat on food packaging.
Despite the prevalence of stories highlighting non-compliance with existing legislation some Dutch firms have opted not to disclose the water content of their products, despite this having been a legal requirement for nearly 4 years already. Inspectors and unofficial press investigations have found that although water is listed as an ingredient, the percentage of the total product weight has been omitted which makes it hard for consumers to assess whether the product is good value for the weight or not. Producers have until 10th of July to disclose their transgressions, and the regulating body has vowed to crack down on the issue in the last half of the year.
A Missouri senator has been paying attention to the developments in France and has introduced a similar bill for state legislators to consider, which would prevent the use of meat based words being used to describe plant based and lab grown meat. As in France, opponents of the proposed change in the law argue that consumers can tell the difference, and that cartons of soy milk are not covered in pictures of cows which could mislead shoppers. Supporters argue that clear labelling is a priority as it effects consumer choice and allows them to make an informed decision, rather than be misled by the name of the product.
At the federal level, the US Cattlemen’s Association has submitted a petition calling for the USDA to crack down on labelling of lab grown meat products so they cannot be mistaken for traditionally produced meat. This has been opposed by a consortium of alternative protein producers who argue that consumers can tell the difference. This seems to be the standard argument, that consumers are informed enough to differentiate between meatless and meat containing products. While this may be true for many people, those who don’t speak English as a first language, as well as those shoppers who go solely on the product name, will be at risk of misinterpreting labels if they use the word “meat” or related terms like “burger” or “nugget”.
The outcomes of these proposed changes in legislation will be full of interesting developments, and UK consumers would do well to keep up the pressure on retailers and the government to adhere to the strict standards we have, and to ensure that any imported meat products that arise from new trade deals follow the same guidelines on labelling and transparency.