Fake ‘meat’ will be regulatd by USDA and FDA, with USDA having primary control | TheFencePost.com

Fake ‘meat’ will be regulatd by USDA and FDA, with USDA having primary control

Danielle Beck, senior director of government affairs, NCBA

Lab produced fake "meat" will fall under the jurisdiction of both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, though Danielle Beck, senior director of government affairs, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said the USDA will have primary control, good news for beef producers.

"We've used several examples in the past where FDA makes that initial safety determination — irradiation, food additives like nitrates in cured meats, or even livestock cloning — FDA makes that initial safety determination but that doesn't change the fact that USDA has primary jurisdiction over irradiated meat or cured meat, or even should cloned livestock ever go to slaughter, cloned animals."

For Beck, she said this is a continuation of regular order with FDA having what she calls an appropriate role overseeing the harvesting of the cells and the technology to do so. The USDA's jurisdiction over the remainder of the processes, she said, is a huge win.

Beck said she anticipates these products could be on the market at the end of this year or beginning of 2019, as the framework for oversight will allow marketplace entry.

As technology improves, Beck said there is a possibility these products could offer solutions to developing countries unable to produce enough high-quality protein. Now, however, the current target consumer in the U.S. is the affluent.

"(They) also come from an economic background where they're comfortable with technology and openminded to try new things of that sort," she said. "I don't see a point in time in the next couple of years where it's going to be appropriate to target countries overseas that are still very much developing."

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Beck said research has been released recently about the type of consumers drawn to products such as these based on their concerns for the environment and animal welfare and are more able to afford to vote with their dollar. However, Beck wholeheartedly disagrees with the assertion that these products are more environmentally friendly than beef.

"Those folks are of an income group that they have the luxury of affording to worry about that sort of thing," she said. "For most people, price is what determines what they buy in the grocery store."

It will be interesting, she said, to see consumers' reaction to these products in the marketplace.

"People pick and choose their science," she said. "People who are intrigued by the products right now and are some of the most vocal advocates are also some of the people who are anti-GMO. For me, you can't be for one ag innovation and against another."

LAB to FORK?

The timing of these products is interesting as well, she said, as many millennials are interested in locally sourced foods and cultivating a relationship with the farmers and ranchers who grow it.

"Tracing your food from farm to fork gets a little more difficult when you're talking lab to fork," she said.

Beck likens lab-produced protein to the truest form of "factory farming" being produced in a laboratory environment. Consumers' reaction to the products will likely be heavily influenced by how the products are labeled and marketed.

Beck said there were a number of interesting questions raised at the recent joint meeting regarding the products. NCBA maintains that a new standard of identity is necessary for the products.

"Ultimately, the purveyors of these products are going to want to differentiate themselves in a way that demonstrates exactly to consumers what they're buying and we think they should be allowed to do so," she said. "Because we want to protect our own nomenclature, we don't think anything grown in a lab should be called beef."

Ultimately, this decision will be made by USDA.

The joint meeting also mentioned the topic of food allergies and the labeling of products so that consumers with allergies are not purchasing items they otherwise would avoid. When it comes to inputs that come into contact during the manufacturing process is a concern as well, Beck said there are more unknowns than knowns now.

One concern raised regarding food-borne pathogens was brought forth by Barbara Kowalcyk, Ohio State University, Food Science and Technology.

"With a muscle cut, the instance for food-borne pathogens only exists on the outside and those products have their own set of handling and cooking requirements as the inside is still sterile," Beck said. "With a ground meat product, it has to be cooked to a specific temperature and has specific handling requirements because it is not an in-tact product. If you're growing a chicken breast in a lab — normally a chicken breast would be in-tact — but if it's being grown in a lab environment, does it still count as in-tact?"

The food safety risks and hazards of the products, she said, are yet to be known. That being said, it begs the question of whether the lab-produced products can safely be marketed in the meat case next to traditional products without cross contamination risks.

Much speculation was mentioned at the joint meeting regarding the use of antibiotics or antimicrobials, she said.

"When you expand the production of this to a commercial scale, there are so many opportunities for things to go awry and vulnerabilities in that process that you need either antibiotics or antimicrobials to ensure that products are shelf stable and it doesn't come into contact with a food-borne pathogen," she said.

Fortification of the products will also be necessary to raise the nutritional value to an equivalency with beef. While Beck admits she isn't a scientist, she said meat products are not something that can be legally fortified in the U.S. Cereals are often fortified but fortification is done at the end of the process, raising questions regarding any changes in regulations necessary to allow market entry of the products.

NCBA will continue to submit comments and will ask affiliates to do the same as the process continues.

"This was an initial win but there's still a lot more work that needs to be done," she said. "I know folks are calling it dual jurisdiction but really this is USDA having primary jurisdiction because they will be overseeing the entire production process, labeling, they'll be looking at foreign products for equivalency determinations if we ever import these products … we need to make sure that as new products enter the market, we're allowed to keep competing on an even playing field and with USDA at the helm, that is certainly what we can expect."

— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at rgabel@thefencepost.com or (970) 392-4410.