WASHINGTON — Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., announced last week their agencies will convene a joint public meeting to be held Oct. 23-24 to discuss the use of cell culture technology to develop food products derived from livestock and poultry.
Rapid strides have been made in developing technologies to produce meat products by replicating under controlled manufacturing conditions cells originally derived from cattle or poultry. It was expected some such products may be ready for introduction to the market on commercial scale within a few years, which lent urgency to efforts to decide how the novel products should be regulated and by whom.
The F.D.A. on July 12 independently held a public meeting on foods produced using animal cell culture technology. While the agency was applauded for addressing the emerging food technology, farm and rancher organizations such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association decried the lack of U.S.D.A. participation, arguing that should cell-cultured food products derived from livestock and poultry, which the N.C.B.A. has called “fake meat,” be introduced to the market, their production and labeling should be overseen by the U.S.D.A.’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.
The F.S.I.S.-F.D.A. public meeting was announced after a joint letter dated Aug. 23 was sent to President Donald Trump from Uma Valeti, co-founder and chief executive officer, Memphis Meats, Inc., San Francisco, a pioneer in cell-based meat and poultry product technology, and Barry Carpenter, president and c.e.o., North American Meat Institute, requesting the administration clarify the regulatory framework for cell-based meat and poultry products.
The letter from Mr. Valeti and Mr. Carpenter said, “Existing law and practice, as well as longstanding precedent, demonstrate that both the U.S. F.D.A. and the U.S.D.A. have roles to play in regulating cell-based meat and poultry products. To ensure the regulatory system protects consumers while fostering innovation, it is imperative that the agencies coordinate and collaborate in their efforts, consistent with established policy.”
Mr. Valeti and Mr. Carpenter provided what they saw as a path forward in regulating the new technology and its products.
“As is the case for other new or novel foods or food ingredients, including those made from or otherwise used in meat and poultry products, F.D.A. should have oversight over pre-market safety evaluations for cell-based meat and poultry products. U.S.D.A. has provided input to F.D.A. as part of this process,” they said. “Given U.S.D.A.’s expertise in regulating meat and poultry, that role should continue. After pre-market safety has been established with F.D.A., U.S.D.A. should regulate cell-based meat and poultry products, as it does with all other meat and poultry products, applying relevant findings from F.D.A.’s safety evaluation to ensure products are safe, wholesome and properly labeled.”
Danielle Beck, director, government affairs, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, responding to the announcement of the joint U.S.D.A.-F.D.A. meeting, said, “Consumers depend on a regulatory system that ensures their food is safe and accurately labeled. That is why it is encouraging to finally see U.S.D.A. involvement on the issue of regulating lab-grown fake meat. U.S.D.A.’s stringent food safety inspection processes and robust labeling protections make the agency the best choice for leading oversight of these new products. N.C.B.A. looks forward to participating in the public meeting and will continue to advocate for U.S.D.A.’s primary oversight role.”
Labeling is a particular concern, according to the N.C.B.A., which maintains the term “beef” should be applicable only to products derived from actual livestock raised and harvested by farmers and ranchers.
The position recently found expression in legislation enacted by the state of Missouri in May and signed into law on June 1 that prohibits “misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.” The law applies both to existing plant-based meat substitutes and prospective cell-based meat and poultry products.
Tofurky, a manufacturer of plant-based meat substitutes, and the Good Foods Institute, which represents manufacturers of cell-based meat and poultry products, have filed suit in hope of overturning the law, which they said infringes on First Amendment rights as well as “denying fair and honest competition in the marketplace.”