On Thursday, in a small but packed auditorium, the FDA convened a public meeting about lab-grown meat—but you wouldn’t have known that if you were listening for those words. According to the FDA, it was actually about “foods produced using animal-cell culture technology.”
And according to the meeting’s various speakers, it was “clean meat,” or “artificial meat,” or “in vitro meat,” or “cell-culture products,” or “ cultured meat,” or “cultured tissue” (not meat!). This is a war of words, with each one chosen to evoke specific associations. And it is a war to define lab-grown meat as either the exciting future of food or a freak science experiment.
It comes at a critical moment. Well-funded start-ups such as Memphis Meats have been feeding their lab-grown chicken to curious tasters. Traditional-meat producers such as Tyson Foods and Cargill have invested money in lab-grown animal protein. The field has made enough progress that the FDA decided to convene a public meeting to discuss how lab-grown meat should be regulated.
Meat producers—particularly beef producers—question whether it should be called “meat” at all. That’s why Rhonda Miller, the former president of the American Meat Science Association, chose to call it “cultured tissue” in her presentation. “Meat scientists do not have enough information on cultured tissue to determine whether it should be called meat,” she said, pointing out that lab-grown meat companies haven’t exactly made samples available for study.