Ethical Analysis of Protein Content and Accuracy in Labeling

Originally Published: March 21, 2023
Last Updated: March 21, 2023
Ethical Analysis of Protein Content and Accuracy in Labeling

No one knows better than Beyond Meat of the importance of accurately labeling a product on its protein quality and content. While Beyond Meat is facing a class-action lawsuit over its labeling, many food companies are challenged with determining protein products’ Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) values quickly and efficiently during product development and production. In addition, there is a growing issue with traditional PDCAAS determinations. The current FDA-approved method requires animal testing, which factors into the ethical treatment of animals.  And, those dedicated to the clean label movement would seemingly expect ethical analysis of protein content in their foods .

“PDCAAS limitations, including required animal testing, high cost, lengthy turn-around time and large sample size requirement, have caused some to look for alternatives to this test,” said David Plank, Ph.D., Managing Principal, WRSS Food & Nutrition Insights/Senior Research Fellow, Dept. of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota ( Plank will speak at Global Food Forums’ upcoming 2023 Clean Label Conference ( on “Ethical Analyses and Labeling for Protein Claims.”

“Measuring quality protein requires the determination of protein digestibility in rats that are sacrificed. This is the only FDA regulation requiring animal testing for a food product label. Compliance with the law creates a dilemma for food manufacturers desiring a clean label concerning ethical animal treatment,” he added. Plank will present the risks of not complying with the existing regulations and a new method that accurately determines rat digestibility without using animals at the 2023 Clean Label Conference.

In the peer-reviewed article “Animal-free strategies in food safety & nutrition: What are we waiting for? Part I: Food safety,” (de Boer, A, et al. Trends in Food Science & Technology. 2020/, the authors describe the pros and cons of various testing methods along with some of the newer testing methods available.

“The paper highlights the great potential for research strategies to be developed that reduce or avoid the use of animal tests, with the generation of more human-relevant data from multiple sources,” claimed A. de Boer et al. And more human-relevant data translates to more accurate assessment, whether for food safety, or in the case of protein, greater accuracy in protein quantity and quality measurement.

“It also shows the discordance in current legislation: on the one hand, saying non-animal strategies should be used, but on the other hand not providing sufficient guidance, leading in practice to lack of use of these non-animal testing strategies. This emphasizes the need for scientific developments and acceptability to be more reflected in legislation (e.g., guidance),” stated A. De Boer et al.

In the authors’ words, “What are we waiting for?”