5 Jan 2022PopsciConsumers demand labelling clarity for lab-grown meat

With cell-cultured animal meat products ready to reach consumers, the USDA has sparked discussion over the terms used for alternative proteins. Public opinion calls for accuracy and empirically supported language, as confusion about lab-grown meat products remains prevalent.

Jonathan HassallJonathan Hassall is a senior behavioural analyst in the data and insights team at Canvas8. A published academic with a master's degree in psychology, he’s brought cutting-edge research techniques to some of the largest brands in the world. He can usually be found immersed in niche musical genres or being a doting father to a panoply of plants and a primadonna cat.

The US Department of Agriculture has opened the floor to the public for opinions on what terms and labels they think are fitting for food containing cultured animal cells. Alternative protein industry groups, as well as legacy agriculture associations, have used this opportunity to put forward contrasting opinions about terminology – while the former advocates for ‘cell-cultured’ or ‘cultivated’, the latter argues that ‘lab-grown’, ‘imitation’, or ‘synthetic’ should be used. Both sides admit there is much consumer confusion around these new products, and while the opposing agriculture groups fight to color public opinion through favorable or unfavorable language, the public shows demand for clarity and empirically supported terms.

While plant-based proteins and meat alternatives like Beyond Meat and Impossible Meat have gone mainstream, there are signs that people are losing their appetite for analog meats, with US sales falling 1.8% in October 2021 compared to the previous year. When the novelty of these foods expires, it’s taste that keeps consumers coming back – and it’s important that communications reflect that. Safety concerns have also been a pitfall of plant-based proteins, with the pandemic having heightened consumer sensitivity to hygiene and health. If cell-cultured/lab-grown meats are to gain traction when they become widely available, using accurate and empirically supported language will be important for building public trust, but it will also be key to emphasize taste and safety.