Battle brewing over lab-grown meat as public meeting approaches

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Perdue and Gottlieb
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue

A meeting scheduled by the Food and Drug Administration next week will offer a window into the debate over who should regulate the fast-growing lab-grown meat industry, which uses animal cells to produce meat grown outside the animals.

FDA has already signaled it believes it has the statutory authority to regulate the new products, which could be on the market as early as the end of the year. In a statement June 15, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Deputy Commissioner Anna Abram said that under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, FDA has jurisdiction over “food,” which includes “articles used for food” and “articles used for components of any such article.”

“Thus, as a starting point, both substances used in the manufacture of these products of animal cell culture technology and the products themselves that will be used for food are subject to the FDA’s jurisdiction,” they said.

In addition, once created, the products “would be further processed using traditional food manufacturing processes that fall under FDA regulations such as the Food Safety Modernization Act’s preventive controls framework,” Gottlieb and Abram said.

But USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue has indicated that USDA should have jurisdiction over the products, telling a congressional hearing earlier this year that “meat and poultry has been the sole purview of USDA” and that “we would expect any product that expects to be labeled as meat would come under that same inspection criteria.”

The beef industry has taken the same stance. Danielle Beck, NCBA’s director of government affairs, says that USDA should have chief regulatory authority over what NCBA calls “fake meat.” Calling it clean meat, as the Good Food Institute and others have advocated, is “inherently disparaging to traditional meat products,” Beck says.

“Ultimately, USDA has the expertise necessary” to regulate the new products, she said.

Danielle Beck
Danielle Beck, NCBA

Jessica Almy, GFI's director of policy, says FDA, however, is the right agency for regulating lab-grown meat. "FDA makes sense,” Almy says. “The kinds of foods FDA regulates look like clean meat.”

In a statement issued after FDA said it should regulate the new products, Almy said that “both the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act are intended to give USDA the authority to regulate the slaughter of animals. Because there is no slaughterhouse involved in clean meat production, it is not clear how these laws would apply to clean meat.”

She also noted that Gottlieb and Abram pointed out that FDA has authority to regulate most seafood, meaning that “FDA will be the agency responsible for overseeing the inspection and labeling of clean fish. It might make sense for that agency to oversee the inspection and labeling of clean beef, chicken, duck, etc., as well.”

Jessica Almy
Jessica Almy

Beck, however, said, “Of all the FSIS inspected plants, a very small percentage of them are slaughterhouse facilities.” (FSIS refers to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service.)

There is an urgent need to settle the regulatory question, Beck said,

“These products are going to be ready to come to the market sooner rather than later,” she said. “We need to have this figured out before products come to market."

The meeting is scheduled for July 12 in the auditorium of the Harvey W. Wiley Federal Building at 5001 Campus Drive in College Park, Md.

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