The phrase "clean meat" is on the outs. Thank goodness.

The dirt on clean meat

Earlier in 2018, WATT PoultryUSA took a look at the technology and the burgeoning business of growing animal tissue from cell cultures. One of the hang-ups surrounding the concept is what to call it. Some proponents call it clean meat while some opponents call it lab-grown meat. Cultured meat seemed a neutral yet factual term, so we settled on that in our coverage.

One of the most prominent firms working on the technology, Memphis Meats, is abandoning the term clean meat altogether. Dr. Eric Schulze, Memphis Meats’ vice president of product and regulation, shared the reasoning behind the startup company’s decision to distance itself from the term at the National Chicken Council’s annual meeting in Washington in October 2018.

“We didn’t come up with the term, but we were using it,” he said. “It just didn’t work, and for many reasons, we wanted to quickly get away from that term and use a term that was much more factual, inclusive and accurate, so we use the term cell-based, as in animal cell-based meat. We think that’s a much better way for us to have a substantive discussion.”

Good! In my judgement, the phrase clean meat creates the false dichotomy that one product is clean – uncontaminated and pure – and the other, conventionally produced meat, is dirty. Ditching that phrase will likely strip away the air of sanctimony that comes with the product and maybe prevent its purveyors from being flatly dismissed by the majority of the animal agriculture industry.

The rub with cell-based

Cell-based meat, on its face, is a massive improvement over clean meat for the aforementioned reasons. I maintain two criticisms of this term, however.

First, there’s the issue of creating more confusion for the consumer. The product isn’t on the shelf yet, but when it is: Won’t cell-based be a head scratcher? Not unlike the labels organic, all-natural, hormone-free, steroid-free, etc. currently affixed to many packages, I fear using this term will make people wonder if there’s something out there that isn’t cell-based.

Second, cell-based requires explanation. I suppose animal cell-based clears up that the product isn’t plant cell-based. But, in essence, aren’t both conventional meat and tissue created from cell culturing both animal cell-based products?