Industry groups praise USDA, FDA cell-based protein agreement, but are still opposed to calling it meat or beef
Many of the groups that have been involved in the debate over how the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Food and Drug Administration should split responsibilities for the regulation of cell-based protein praised an agreement announced March 7, but there were nuances in the details of their statements.
In a joint statement, the two agencies said, “Under the formal agreement, the agencies agree upon a joint regulatory framework wherein FDA oversees cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth and differentiation. A transition from FDA to FSIS oversight will occur during the cell harvest stage. FSIS will oversee the production and labeling of human food products derived from the cells of livestock and poultry.”
“Consumers trust the USDA mark of inspection to ensure safe, wholesome and accurately labeled products,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Mindy Brashears.
“We look forward to continued collaboration with FDA and our stakeholders to safely regulate these new products and ensure parity in labeling.”
“We recognize that our stakeholders want clarity on how we will move forward with a regulatory regime to ensure the safety and proper labeling of these cell-cultured human food products while continuing to encourage innovation,” said FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response Frank Yiannas.
“Collaboration between USDA and FDA will allow us to draw upon the unique expertise of each agency in addressing the many important technical and regulatory considerations that can arise with the development of animal cell-cultured food products for human consumption.”
Uma Valeti, a co-founder and CEO of Memphis Meats, one of the pioneers in the cell-based protein field, said in a news release, “Memphis Meats has long advocated for joint oversight of cell-based meat and poultry by both USDA and FDA, and we commend (Agriculture) Secretary (Sonny) Perdue, (FDA) Commissioner (Scott) Gottlieb, and their respective agency staff for working together to develop guidance that includes roles for both agencies.”
“Demand for meat is projected to double by 2050, and every stakeholder we speak with, regardless of production method, shares the goal of feeding our growing planet in a safe and sustainable way. As consumer interest for cell-based meat continues to grow, we will work with both FDA and USDA to bring safe and truthfully labeled products to market.”
The North American Meat Institute, which represents meat and poultry processors, also applauded the agreement.
“The framework announced today will ensure cell-based meat and poultry products are wholesome, safe for consumption, and properly labeled,” said Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts.
“We support a fair and competitive marketplace that lets consumers decide what food products make sense for them and their families, and this agreement will help achieve these goals by establishing the level playing field necessary to ensure consumer confidence.”
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Jennifer Houston said, “The formal agreement announced today solidifies USDA’s lead oversight role in the production and labeling of lab-grown fake meat products.”
“This is what NCBA has been asking for, and it is what consumers deserve,” Houston said.
“Under the terms of the agreement, USDA will be responsible for inspecting all facilities that harvest, process, package, or label cell-cultured products derived from livestock or poultry. All product labels will also be subject to USDA’s pre-approval and verification process.
“We look forward to working collaboratively with the USDA and FDA on next steps, including the development of a more detailed framework concerning the cell harvest stage. Ensuring that all lab-grown fake meat products are safe and accurately labeled remains NCBA’s top priority.”
U.S. Cattlemen’s Association President Kenny Graner, who also represents cattle producers, noted that the USCA petition for rulemaking has been cited by agency officials as the catalyst for the discussions about cell-cultured technology, and said USCA is “encouraged by USDA and FDA preemptively formalizing a joint regulatory framework prior to the commercialization of these products.”
“Further, we’re pleased with language in the formal agreement that will allow USDA FSIS pre-market labeling authority,” Graner said.
But he added, “However, we’d like to reiterate our position that the term ‘meat,’ and more specifically ‘beef,’ refers to products derived exclusively from the flesh of a bovine animal harvested in the traditional manner. Under the formal agreement, it appears that USDA FSIS will issue the USDA meat inspection stamp to be used on these products.”
“USCA is strongly opposed to the utilization of any of the three purple-inked USDA meat inspection stamps for cell-cultured product. A new stamp should be created for cell-cultured products that is inspected by USDA and by state inspection agencies, using a different format and color ink on the stamp. Neither the federal or state meat inspection stamps should appear on the cell-cultured protein products, retail packaging or wholesale containers.
The National Farmers Union took a position similar to USCA on the USDA meat inspection stamps at its convention this week, but did not issue a statement today.
Jessica Almy, director of policy for The Good Food Institute, which advocates for plant-based and cell-based foods, called the agreement “a significant step forward in providing a transparent and predictable regulatory path to market for cell-based meat, which will help to ensure that the U.S. does not fall behind Israel, China, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, and other countries that are moving quickly to ensure a clear path to market for this method of meat production.”
The institute emphasized that, while the United States is “currently the central hub for cell-based innovation with several companies that have raised between $1 million and $20 million,” other governments and investors in foreign countries have also shown an interest.
The institute noted that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has said, “We don’t want this new technology to feel like they’ve got to go offshore or outside the United States to get a fair regulatory protocol.”
“We commend the agencies for their leadership to guarantee that the U.S. retains its status as global leader in this promising new food sector,” the institute said.
Almy concluded that, “Today’s agreement is a strong signal that the USDA and the FDA will work together to ensure that cell-based meat and poultry products are safe and accurately labeled. Specifically, the agreement provides that USDA will pre-approve labels and also verify them through inspection, consistent with existing regulations. With this leadership at the federal level, there is no need for states to pass legislation that would censor these labels before cell-based meat even comes to market.”
Several states have already passed laws banning the use of the word “meat” with products that do not come from animals, but there are legal questions about whether those laws violate federal statutes on labeling. ❖
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