War of words over what to call lab meat

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Labels given to lab-grown meat will play a big part in its acceptability.
Labels given to lab-grown meat will play a big part in its acceptability.

If meat is grown in a lab without slaughtering animals, what should it be called?

That question has yet to be decided by US regulators, but for the moment it's pitting animal rights advocates and others against cattle ranchers in a war of words.

Supporters of the science are embracing ``clean meat'' to describe meat grown by replicating animal cells. Many in the conventional meat industry are irritated by the term and want to stamp it out before it takes hold.

``It implies that traditional beef is dirty,'' says Danielle Beck, director of government affairs for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

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The spat shows the power of language as a new industry attempts to reshape eating habits. It's why America's US$49.5 billion (NZ$73b) beef, poultry, pork and lamb industry is mobilising to claim ownership of the term ``meat.''

Squabbles over language are erupting across the food business as established definitions for mayonnaise and milk are also challenged by the likes of vegan spreads and almond drinks.

Fake chicken meat, made from pea protein. Should it be called ''meat'' at all'?
Fake chicken meat, made from pea protein. Should it be called ''meat'' at all'?

What gets to be considered ``meat'' is a particularly touchy subject as new companies come up with substitutes they say are just like the real thing.

For example, Impossible Burger's plant-based patty ``bleeds'' like beef.

Companies such as Memphis Meats are growing meat by culturing animal cells, though it could be years before products are on shelves. Big meat producers like Tyson Foods and Cargill Inc. are among Memphis Meats' investors.

The Food and Drug Administration, which in the past has called out Kraft's use of the term ``pasteurised process cheese food',' plans to hold a public meeting to discuss ``cultured'' meat next month.

In the meantime, all sides are scrambling to frame the issue in their own words.

The Good Food Institute, an advocacy and lobbying group for meat alternatives, is embracing ``clean meat,'' which channels the positive connotations of ``clean energy.''

Other options it tested: ``Meat 2.0,'' `'Safe Meat'' and ``Pure Meat.''

``Green Meat'' was dismissed early on. ``Nobody wants to eat green meat,'' said Bruce Friedrich, co-founder of the Good Food Institute.

Even rice producers are fighting back against substitutes, such as the low-carb apeal of cauliflower ``rice''.
Even rice producers are fighting back against substitutes, such as the low-carb apeal of cauliflower ``rice''.

Meanwhile, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association is fighting to defend what it sees as its linguistic turf.

The cattlemen's group prefers less appetising terms such as ``in vitro meat,'' `'synthetic meat'' or even ``meat byproduct'' for meat grown through cultured cells.

For meat alternatives more broadly, it likes ``fake meat.''

Anne Curzan, a professor of English at the University of Michigan, says the term ``clean meat'' highlights the positive and pushes into the background aspects that may make people uncomfortable.

``It is smart branding to try to keep the product from being associated with `frankenfood','' Curzan says.

Last year, the dairy industry revived its quest to abolish terms like ``soy milk'' and ``almond milk,'' saying that milk is defined as being obtained from a cow.

That came after a vegan spread provoked the ire of the Association for Dressings and Sauces, of which Hellmann's is a member, by calling itself ``Just Mayo.''

Even grains aren't immune from controversy. With cauliflower ``rice'' becoming popular with low-carb eaters, the rice industry is punching back with its own term for chopped-up vegetable substitutes: ``rice pretenders .''

- AP