No conclusion on cell-cultured animal products at USDA-FDA meeting
The Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration finished their two-day public meeting on what some call animal cell culture products on Tuesday, and posted the sessions on You Tube.
The sessions allowed officials and stakeholders to present their views in a formal setting, but offered nothing conclusive on the contentious subjects of how the new food products should be regulated and labeled.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb promised to work together on regulations and to issue a plan by next spring. The cooperative approach is unlikely to satisfy the conventional meat industry, which wants the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to be in charge, and the emerging cell-cultured food industry that wants FDA in charge.
North American Meat Institute Senior Vice President of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs Mark Dopp said, “That the inspection system FSIS administers is more rigorous than the one administered by FDA is undeniable. Administration officials have said as much. But I am baffled why those who advocate that FDA should have primary jurisdiction over cell-based meat products want to deny those companies the benefits of FSIS inspection.”
Dopp said USDA’s label-approval process “protects companies from frivolous lawsuits and gives consumers confidence that products are accurately labeled and not represented to be something they are not.”
Dopp also said the North American Meat Institute, which represents packers, considers FDA-regulated plant-based products which are represented on the package as sausage products but contain no meat to be “misbranded.
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and the National Farmers Union both testified in opposition to using the word “meat” for cell-cultured products.
“Meat is meat, and beef is bovine,” Danni Beer, a U.S. Cattlemen’s Association former president said. USCA, she added “continues to oppose any use of the terms ‘beef’ or ‘meat’ on any product not harvested from livestock in the traditional manner.”
Beer also said USCA is opposed to using the beef checkoff program to promote cell-cultured protein.
“Since 1986, ranchers have been building up beef’s brand through a regular investment into a program known as the beef checkoff. Nearly $1.1 billion has been invested into the ‘beef’ brand since 1986,” she said.
“It is wrong for beef producers to pay to promote a cell-cultured product. And it is wrong for any part of our beef checkoff dollars to be used to promote cell-cultured proteins either domestically or internationally.
“The alternative protein industry should not be allowed to villainize the beef cattle industry. U.S. beef is among the most sustainably produced beef in the world and we strive to better our cattle and beef product everyday,” Beer said.
Karla Hofhenke of the South Dakota Farmers Union said, “Allowing a protein that is grown in a petri dish to be labeled as ‘meat’ is misleading and creates consumer confusion. The only sure way to avoid misleading consumers is to restrict the definition of meat to the tissue or flesh of an animal that has been born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner.”
The National Farmers Union noted in its comments that it “opposes labeling of foods produced using cell culture applications as ‘meat’ and as related products such as ‘beef,’ ‘poultry’ and ‘seafood.’”
NFU President Roger Johnson has also said, “Lab-grown products are likely to be produced by large companies, including the major global meatpackers, exacerbating the anti-competitive practices facing family farmers and ranchers and the rural communities in which they live. Fairly and accurately labeling animal cell culture products would provide some protection for family farmers’ and ranchers’ market share.”
Peter Licari, chief technology officer for JUST, the San Francisco company best known for its eggless mayonnaise, said JUST is developing animal cell chicken that “looks like chicken when it is uncooked” and “looks like chicken when it is cooked. From an analytical perspective, it is comparable to conventional chicken.”
With that in mind, Licari said the company proposes “that labels for cultured meat products include the following elements: (1) On the front and center of the label: the name of the brand (e.g., “Sunshine Meat Co.”); and (2) just below the brand name: a statement of identity which indicates that the product is cultured, as well as the species from which the product is derived (e.g., “Cultured Chicken Breast”).
Licari said JUST believes “this format satisfies regulatory and consumer interests, while fitting into previously approved formats.”
FDA initially challenged JUST’s labeling of its mayonnaise, but Licari said, “in the case of our product ‘JUST Mayo,’ we worked with the FDA to continue using the consumer-friendly term “mayo” by agreeing to state ‘spread and dressings’ on the bottom left of the label, which appears as the statement of identity.”
“Similarly, our product ‘JUST Egg’ is a plant-based product which is branded as ‘JUST Egg’ to consumers, while the label for the product bears the statement of identity of ‘plant-based scramble’ to clearly communicate to the consumer the product they are purchasing.”
Other attendees questioned whether the terms “clean meat,” “lab-grown” or “cultured” are appropriate or would be meaningful to consumers.
Wyoming rancher and retired attorney Tracy Hunt is concerned that regulations announced last fall by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission could help propel the U.S. into Netherlands-style turmoil.
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