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On this week’s plate: U.S. Senators Jon Tester and Mike Rounds battle lab-grown meat availability in school systems with School Lunch Integrity Act of 2024; FDA issues warning letters to six companies for violating foreign verification supplier program; Non-GMO Project targets BIPOC business owners with new cost-reduction program; and more.
There are many misconceptions surrounding lab-grown meat, also known as cell-cultivated meat, which is made using cells from living animals. In 2022, FDA deemed a lab-grown chicken product safe for human consumption. Shortly after in June 2023, USDA approved labels for cultivated meat products produced by Upside Foods and GOOD Meat. It’s still a controversial topic in the industry, however, from its ban in Italy and proposed ban in some U.S. states to its supposed negative environmental impacts. Also in this week’s column, FDA issues notices to several U.S. companies about products in violation of the foreign verification supplier program (FSVP). Read more below.
Though FDA and USDA have deemed some lab-grown meat products OK in the U.S., they’re now under scrutiny from two senators in the Midwest. U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) recently introduced the School Lunch Integrity Act of 2024, a bipartisan bill that proposes the ban of lab-grown meat in schools nationwide through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP). It aims to address the lack of regulation surrounding the products in school systems by USDA, which sets nutritional requirements for meals that are allowed to be served to students through NSLP and SBP, according to Tester.
Both senators support ranchers from their respective states, Montana and South Dakota, and believe children should be consuming animal-based meat products, as opposed to lab-grown meat. “This commonsense bill will make sure our schools can serve real meat from our ranchers, not a fake substitute that’s grown in a lab,” Tester said in a Jan. 26 press release.
Rounds echoed Tester’s comments. “Our students should not be test subjects for cell-cultivated ‘meat’ experiments,” he explained. “With high-quality, local beef readily available for our students, there’s no reason to be serving fake, lab-grown meat products in the cafeteria.”
The legislation is endorsed by the United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA), R-CALF USA, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and Center for the Environmental & Welfare (CEW). On Jan. 29, CEW launched a national petition to support the bill, which has already garnered more than 19,000 signatures.
“This bipartisan legislation reflects a growing chorus of voices concerned about lab-grown meat, the lack of long-term health and nutritional studies, and the use of immortalized cells,” CEW Executive Director Jack Hubbard said. “As a parent myself, I share many of the concerns raised about feeding this experimental product to children.”
A handful of companies nationwide are under fire from FDA. From September 2023 to January 2024, six food and beverage companies — three from Texas, one from California, one from Indiana and one from New York — were found in violation of the foreign verification supplier program (FSVP). The agency issued warning letters to all companies over the last month after thorough inspections identified several products — including various snacks, condiments, candies, chips, canned goods, frozen products, sodas and fresh produce — from each company that violated FSVP requirements. FSVP requirements are part of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) passed by former President Obama to ensure that all food imported into the United States meets food safety standards. All six companies — Mexpobaja Corp., Grace Supply Inc., A True Move LLC, Distribuidora Jocorena Inc., Cavevi Naturals LLC, Kyawkhin Inc. — were given three business weeks to detail the “specific things” they are doing to correct the violations. If any companies fail to comply with the complaints issued, FDA informed them that it may refuse future imports of the foods in violation of compliance.
Non-GMO Project, a nonprofit offering certification for food and beverage products that avoid genetically modified ingredients, recently launched an Equitable Transfer Program to level the playing field for businesses led by members of underrepresented communities. BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of color) business owners can apply for funding that will offset up to $5,000 of the cost of getting non-GMO certified.
“As a predominantly white-led organization, we are on a learning journey to understand the role we play in systemic racism and what we can do to transfer power and resources to people of color who own and lead businesses in the natural products industry,” Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project, said in a press release. “Our hope is that this equity program represents a small but meaningful first step into even more meaningful relationships.”
Earning this certification means companies “land the Butterfly” on their labels, according to the Non-GMO Project website, which also claims that research shows a connection between adding the Non-GMO Project seal and increasing sales by up to 20%.
The program will have two rounds — one in January-March and another in June-August. The current open application period lasts until 6 p.m. PST, Feb. 29. To be eligible, businesses must self-identify as a Black, indigenous, multiracial or people of color-led company, and must be enrolling or renewing products in the Non-GMO Project’s Product Verified program, which means complying with its standards for non-GMO ingredients. The first two recipients, from the two rounds in 2023, are Tiffin Asha and La Morenita.
Feb. 9 is National Pizza Day. And the Superbowl is just two days later, so pizza will be on the menu. With increasing consumer awareness about health and wellness, however, you may be wondering how to innovate with plant-based or better-for-you ingredients on pizza. Prime Roots, which creates plant-based deli meats, has achieved this by creating alt-pepperoni with no nitrates, cholesterol or preservatives — all made from koji (Aspergillus oryzae), a filamentous fungus, which is prepared using the same spices as conventional pepperoni.
“Prime Roots’ plant-based koji-pepperoni tastes like conventional pepperoni because we use the same epicurean processes,” Kimberlie Le, co-founder and CEO of Prime Roots, said. “Instead of pork, we start by using the koji, a whole food protein, which imparts a meaty umami flavor naturally. From there, we mix in a special blend of quality spices that includes fennel, hot paprika and more before we dry it, so it tastes, cooks and cups just the same.”
Plant-based proteins are gaining momentum worldwide. Plant-based food tech company Chunk Foods and plant-based food company Better Balance recently joined forces to develop a new range of plant-based, whole-cut meat products. Chunk Foods will provide plant-based proteins for Better Balance, expanding the products reach to Mexico’s foodservice and retail sectors. The announcement follows Chunk Foods’ recent achievement of securing $7.5 million in additional seed funding led by Cheyenne Ventures, bringing their total seed funding to more than $24 million — making it one of the largest in the alt-protein sector. The partnership also emphasizes a commitment to innovation, sustainability and expansion of the plant-based market, according to Chunk Foods.
“The plant-based segment remains incredibly enticing, with substantial untapped potential waiting to be discovered,” Helio Castaño, VP of plant based global at Better Balance, said. “Better Balance aims to meet the evolving consumer demands for taste, texture, ingredient transparency and ease of preparation. The collaboration with Chunk will enable the exploration of exciting new alternatives in the premium segment, which are aligned to this purpose.”
Online grocery shopping and delivery company Instacart partnered with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to advance the food-as-medicine movement. According to a post by Dani Dudeck, chief corporate affairs officer at Instacart, this partnership will “support and scale food as medicine interventions, including by increasing access to nutritious food and offering the tools needed to support better health and well-being for individuals and families across the country.”
The food-as-medicine movement, also called Food Is Medicine by HHS, asserts that American food habits may be responsible for the rise in chronic diseases in the U.S. It strives to understand — and act upon — the link between food and health. “As part of that work, we’ve developed new technologies and infrastructure to power food-as-medicine programs, including produce prescription initiatives and other nutrition interventions,” Dudeck said. “Our company shares HHS’s commitment to improving health through the power of food — and we’re in this for the long run. We’re proud to launch this public-private partnership with HHS to increase access to nutritious food and ensure more people have the tools they need to support their health, and we encourage others to join this cross-sector work.”
Associate editor, Food & Beverage Insider
With over a decade of diverse professional experience under her belt, Heather has journeyed from the bustling world of local news reporting to the intricate realms of trade publishing. She has covered a wide array of topics, ranging from architecture and design to the food and beverage industry.
During her illustrious career, Heather also ventured into the realm of public relations, where she gleaned invaluable insights into the art of strategic communication and brand storytelling. Yet, her heart has always been anchored in the vibrant world of F&B, a passion deeply ingrained in her roots as the daughter of a seasoned chef. She has always held a profound appreciation for the role food plays in shaping cultures and connecting people.
With each story she tells, Heather seeks to illuminate the profound impact of food and beverage on people’s lives, celebrating its ability to evoke emotions, foster connections and weave the fabric of our shared human experience.
As Food & Beverage's associate editor, she co-publishes a weekly news column, Business Bites, which showcases the latest industry news, highlighting key business updates, food and beverage innovation, industry events and more. Some of her other articles touch on important topics, such as ultra-processed foods, plant-based foods primed to change the food landscape, international flavors and ingredients, as well as better-for-you CPGs. She also frequently covers top trends at various industry events and has moderated first-of-their-kind education sessions at Informa events.
She can be reached at [email protected].
Staff writer, Food & Beverage Insider
Scott Miller brings two decades of experience as a writer, editor, and communications specialist to Food & Beverage Insider. He’s done a little of everything, from walking a beat as a freelance journalist to taking the Big Red Pen to massive technical volumes. He even ran a professional brewing industry website for several years, leveling up content delivery during an era when everyone had a blog.
Since starting at Food & Beverage Insider, he’s written pieces on the price of greenwashing (and how to avoid it), debunked studies that served little to no purpose (other than upsetting the public) and explained the benefits of caffeine alternatives, along with various other stories on trends and events.
Scott is particularly interested in how science, technology and industry are converging to answer tomorrow’s big questions about food insecurity, climate change and more.
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