John Block: Clean Meat

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

All the time, we hear the loud voices of consumer groups that insist the public must be informed about the food we eat. “Label it organic.”  “If it has GMOs, the consumer must know.”  “You should not label it natural if it is not natural,” whatever ‘natural’ means.

Now, we have millions of dollars being invested in a new “clean meat” industry. But it’s not “meat,” as we know it. It’s not a beef steak or a pork chop.

Can the food be labeled “clean meat” or “clean beef” if the product is grown from cell cultures in a lab?  Cultured meat products don’t come from conventional animals. Doesn’t the “clean meat” label mislead the grocery shopper?

The meat industry has competed against veggie burgers over recent years; but at least they were honest about their vegetable origin. “Clean meat” has no intention of giving up its name, according to Jessie Almy, Policy Director at the Good Food Institute.

In defense, the cattlemen, the pork producers, the whole meat industry, and two separate beef associations have met with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration to figure a way to protect the meat industry as we know it.

Glynn Tonsor, a Kansas State University agricultural economist, has this to say: “There are already a lot of alternative proteins out there. But this is the first one that’s using the term ‘meat’ in marketing and on its labels.  ‘Clean meat’ has a certain ring to it, after all.  ‘Lab-grown cultured meat product’ sounds like a cousin of pink slime.”  Remember that? Nutritious lean meat was disparaged as “pink slime” and folks are trying to suggest livestock products aren’t “clean.”  Come on!

Last month, the Cattlemen’s Association filed a petition asking the Department of Agriculture to prevent cultured and plant-based meat companies from using the terms “beef” and “meat.” Maybe the consumer groups that are always demanding truthful labeling of GMOs would join the ranchers on this issue in opposition to a misleading label.

Don’t hold your breath!

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit

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