WHERE'S THE BEEF

The lab-grown food industry is now lobbying in Washington

Traditional food industry lobbying groups in Washington have for years been dubbed “The DC Barnyard,” but a fresh face is about to bring a new flavor of foodie influence to the US capital.

The Good Food Institute represents the interests of the clean (think burgers made without slaughtering cows) and plant-based food industries, many of which are working on the cutting edge of food technology. Its mission, it says, is to help sustainably feed the more than 9 billion people who will live on the planet in 2050.

In 2015, agribusiness spent more than $132 million to get its special interests on the desks of lawmakers. That list includes money coming from the largest global food manufacturers, commodity associations and advocacy organizations. GFI is a small fish in a big pond for now, but if food technology growth winds up mirroring other tech sectors—fueled by the growing interest in sustainable, animal friendly products—the so-called “clean food” industry may one day be a power player.

GFI—which hopes to operate initially on a budget of $1.6 million—has already set out to address a policy scuffle over the term “soy milk,” after a battle between Hampton Creek and the US Food and Drug Administration over the legality of selling eggless mayonnaise as “mayo.” It hopes to build a case against the FDA that would officially allow soy milk companies to describe their product as a type of “milk,” which is currently illegal (though some companies get away with it, much to the chagrin of the dairy industry).

“We will be doing a lot of work at both the statutory and regulatory level,” said GFI director Bruce Friedrich. “Progressives want to see the standards of identity updated so they allow for healthier foods as long as there’s no customer confusion.”

Friedrich says GFI, which is registered as a charity and doesn’t directly represent individual companies, has already commanded the attention of New Jersey Democratic senator Cory Booker and Utah Republican senator Mike Lee about the problem. The lobbying group has also won the general support and advice of venture capitalists, policy experts at the Humane Society of the United States, a vice president at the Smarties Candy Company, and the top chef at Whole Foods Market. In recent weeks, it has hired Valparaiso University law professor Nicole Negowetti as its policy director, two senior scientists, and a communications manager.

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