Fetterman: Some products shouldn’t be called meat or milk

Senator says alternative products already threaten the livelihoods of those in animal agriculture, and using inaccurate labels will not help.

Roy Graber Headshot
Sen. John Fetterman
Sen. John Fetterman
Official U.S. Senate photo

Senator John Fetterman made it known that he opposes the use of the words “meat” and “milk,” unless the products described as such came from an actual animal that was raised on a farm.

During a February 28 Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, Fetterman, D-Pennsylvania, told U.S. Agriculture Secretary that such products are a threat to producers he represents, and that it isn’t accurate to describe plant-based beverages as milk and cell-cultured foods as meat.

Can you call it meat?

Fetterman said that the thought of cell-cultured meat was “very unattractive” to him, and not something he would consider meat at all.

“I mean I’m not a Luddite or anything like that, but I find that very, very, different,” Fetterman said of cell-cultured foods. “That’s one more product or movement or whatever that is going to impact our farmers that raise beef … or chickens.”

Fetterman then asked Vilsack it such products could legally be called meat.

“We’re currently grappling with this issue right now in terms of labeling,” said Vilsack. “What do you call it? If the biological process is actually equivalent to what takes place with livestock, the argument is that it ought to be able to be called meat. However, consumers need to understand and appreciate the differentiation between cell-cultured meat and livestock that’s produced on the farm. That’s what we’re dealing with now: trying to figure out how to distinguish so that when consumers make the choice, they know what they’re buying.”

The milk debate

It isn’t just overuse of the term “meat,” that concerns Fetterman. He also doesn’t think non-dairy beverages should be referred to as “milk.”

"My farmers feel like they’re under siege by these so-called plant milks. I don’t believe that you should count something that is made out of oats or almonds, or whatever, as milk,” he said.

While Fetterman seemed put off by the concept of cell-cultured foods, he said producers of alternative milks “can make whatever of those products they want.” However, when they are labeled as “milk,” he believed that can negatively impact the bottom line of dairy farmers in Pennsylvania and across the nation.

“What are your personal thoughts on labeling it plant milk when it’s not really anything to do with milk,” Fetterman asked Vilsack.

The agriculture secretary responded by saying that the challenge the USDA is dealing with is that the term “milk” evokes certain images of being good for you.

“I think people think that milk is a very nutritional food, so anybody who uses the term ‘milk’ ought to be able to establish the nutritional value or whatever it is that they’re trying to sell. Oftentimes, what you find with those alternatives is that they don’t match the nutritional value of milk and therefore, in my view, they ought not to be able to use that term,” Vilsack said.

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