Seven groups representing livestock producers and the meat industry have gone straight to President Donald Trump with their jurisdictional requests for cell-cultured protein products.
In a letter to the White House on Thursday, the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Sheep Industry Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation, and the North American Meat Institute ask Trump to leave regulation of cell-cultured meat to the Department of Agriculture, not the Food and Drug Administration.
“That system ensures all meat and poultry products are held to the same rigorous food safety and labeling standards,” the groups write. “Anything less is a grave disservice to consumers and producers.”
The groups say USDA is “uniquely equipped” to ensure production facilities are adequately inspected and product labels are written “to ensure products are what they claim to be.”
“Meat and poultry processing companies have been meeting the challenge of USDA inspection for decades,” the letter adds. “Cell-cultured meat and poultry companies can and should meet the same requirements.”
The letter represents an escalation of a debate surrounding just how cell-cultured and plant-based products should be regulated and labeled in the marketplace. The meat groups contend that product-specific language should be protected from use in alternative products, and those products should be barred from branding themselves in manners such as “clean” meat.
The debate isn’t just between the two industries: Government agencies are still working to understand who should be in charge. Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration held a public meeting where it asserted that it had the expertise to regulate the products. The Department of Agriculture has also accepted industry comment on a petition on the subject. Some producers of cultured meat seem to be leaning in favor of FDA jurisdiction.
“The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has demonstrated the expertise necessary to provide adequate oversight of clean meat,” Jessica Almy, director of policy at The Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that supports cultured and plant-based product companies, said in a statement.
“Additionally, it is clear that FDA will have authority over most or all varieties of clean-meat fish,” she added. “Given that the methods of production will be the same, splitting oversight of the same process between two agencies would be duplicative and costly. So it makes sense that FDA would regulate clean beef, chicken, and pork as well.”
The letter sent to the White House, however, noted testimony from the FDA public hearing, where a representative from cultured meat company Memphis Meats said “our beef is beef, our chicken is chicken.” The ag groups contend that statement should lead to the same regulatory scrutiny faced by traditional meat production.
“If that is so, then cell-cultured protein products that purport to be meat or poultry should be subject to the same comprehensive inspection system that governs other amenable meat and poultry products to ensure they are wholesome and safe for consumption, and to ensure they are labeled and marketed in a manner that provides a level playing field in the marketplace.”
In its testimony to FDA earlier this month, Memphis Meats said FDA’s approach “provides a high level of premarket oversight, is consistent with longstanding precedent, and is appropriate for assessing the safety and quality of cell-based meat.”
In a statement to Agri-Pulse, Steve Myrick, the company’s VP of operations, said the company wants to work toward regulatory certainty.
“Memphis Meats believes that stakeholders across government, including FDA and USDA, and the meat and poultry industries should work together to clarify how the existing regulatory framework applies to cell-based meat, while supporting innovation and consumer trust.”
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