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As cell-cultured or “lab-grown” meats come closer to hitting grocery store shelves, federal and state regulators are facing questions about how these products should be labeled.

The issue is divisive. Traditional meat producers are pushing for strict labeling requirements—they want to reserve terms like “meat” for meat made from animals, arguing that consumers are likely to be deceived by words like “burger” on alternative proteins. Alternative protein producers oppose these restrictions, claiming consumers will recognize the difference between the products and arguing that they are more likely to be confused about how to cook and serve the product without familiar terms like “sausage” or “burger.” They also allege that laws and regulations restricting the use of such terms violate producers’ First Amendment right to free speech.

In recent years, several states have passed legislation on cell-cultured meat labeling in the absence of federal regulation. However the federal government is working on establishing comprehensive national standards. This issue brief—published by Alexandra Spring and Cydnee Bence for CAFS’s Labels Unwrapped project in October 2022—examines the recent cell-cultured meat labeling controversy, providing general background on the science of cell-cultured meat production, consumer trends and motivations, and key stakeholder perspectives. It explains the roles of different regulatory bodies such as state lawmakers, Congress, federal agencies, and courts in the development of labeling standards, and explains some of the major policy issues surrounding cell cultured meat, such as federal preemption and consumer protection. Ultimately, it should give consumers a better understanding of how cell-cultured meat products are likely to be labeled when they hit grocery shelves.

This publication was made possible with support from the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service.  

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