A Washington lobby group representing the meat sector and a major player in cultured protein development sent a joint letter to the administration Thursday outlining suggested steps in terminology and governance of a technology that has vexed regulators and producers alike in the early days of its growth.
In the letter sent to the White House, the leaders of the North American Meat Institute and Memphis Meats jointly call on the administration to acknowledge roles for both the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture in the regulation of cell-based meat.
The technology – which has been dubbed things like cultured meat, clean meat, and fake meat during the regulatory debate – uses existing animal cells in cell culture to produce meat products. As such, NAMI and Memphis Meats suggest the term “cell-based meat and poultry” as the proper terminology for products of the technology.
The letter also suggests FDA should be charged with ensuring the pre-market safety evaluation of cell-based meat and poultry with USDA input. Once pre-market safety is established, regulatory oversight can be shifted to USDA, which can apply "relevant findings from FDA’s safety evaluation to ensure products are safe, wholesome, and properly labeled.”
“Such a regulatory framework is not new and plays into the strengths and experience of FDA and USDA,” the letter states. “FDA has extensive expertise regarding products produced using cell culture technology and USDA has a longstanding role in inspecting meat and poultry products.”
Mark Dopp, NAMI’s senior vice president for regulatory affairs, tells Agri-Pulse this approach has been used before with additives and processes.
“This happens all the time,” he said, using irradiation as an example. “Direct and indirect additives, they’re all approved by first by FDA for food safety purposes. After that, FSIS makes sure that they’re used in the proper form or fashion in USDA federally-inspected establishments.”
“Why would we treat these products – or regulate them any differently – than how ground beef is made or how hot dogs are made or how ham is processed,” he argued.
Finally, NAMI and Memphis Meats request a meeting “between the White House, USDA, FDA, and both conventional and cell-based meat and poultry industry stakeholders.”
Thursday’s letter was limited to Memphis Meats, but NAMI CEO Barry Carpenter said the group is open to working with other cell-based manufacturers on similar initiatives in the future. He said talk of such companies becoming members in NAMI may be a little premature, but the organization would be open to it “if they progress and get into making products.” For now, he said it’s important to reach an agreement on regulatory practices.
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“Let’s get the safest food we can get in the marketplace and not have products that may be different but look similar in the marketplace have a whole different safety profile,” Carpenter said.
The conversation around the proper regulatory framework for cell-based meat products has been a lengthy one with no real offering of consensus between conventional protein producers and users of the new technology. NAMI previously signed onto a letter in July calling for USDA oversight of the products.
USDA and FDA have even signaled disagreement on the issue; in July, the FDA held a public meeting on the subject but did not include speakers from USDA.
Calls for regulatory scrutiny have typically suggested either USDA or FDA, but this letter calls for a mix of the two as the product develops in the marketplace. FDA is accepting comments on the subject through Sept. 25.
(Story updated at 2:45 pm to include additional NAMI comment.)
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