A Planetary Health Approach to the Labeling of Plant-Based Meat

Nicole E. Negowetti


In 2019, alternative proteins became mainstream. “Bleeding” plant-based burgers are now available at fast-food restaurants and grocery stores across the country, and the field of cellular agriculture—production of meat, dairy, and eggs from cells instead of livestock—is advancing rapidly. The replacement of conventional animal products with plant-based and cell-based alternatives signifies, for their producers and advocates, a turning point toward a more sustainable, just, and healthy food system. Yet, for the livestock industry, some consumer protection and environmental groups, and “natural” food advocates, these “Frankenfoods” or “fake foods” represent a flawed techno-fix. This paper explores these politicized narratives which have brought regulatory and legal issues of naming and labeling to the forefront of FDA’s and USDA’s agenda, have received congressional attention, and are also being addressed by state legislatures proposing and passing laws to define foods, such as “meat.” The health benefits and risks of both conventional and alternative meat products are focal issues in the conflicting narratives reported in the media and communicated through advertising campaigns. Focusing on FDA-regulated plant-based meat products that are currently or soon-to-be on the market, this paper evaluates the appropriate role of government in clarifying, and not further obfuscating, the issues. It does so by analyzing the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and FDA’s existing labeling guidance and regulations regarding “healthy” implied nutrient content claims. The paper argues for a broader approach to defining “healthy” that considers both human and planetary health and allows consumers to compare the healthfulness of alternative products with their conventional counterparts.