As the debate over lab-grown meat products continues to garner attention, several industry groups recently sent a letter asking President Trump to step in to help add clarity to the issue. With the commercial viability of cell-cultured meat products growing closer, the question remains as to which federal agency will have authority to regulate the emerging industry. The letter signed by seven industry groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, calls for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be the official regulatory agency for lab-grown meat alternatives.
“If cell-cultured protein companies want the privilege of marketing their products as meat and poultry products to the American public, in order to ensure a fair and competitive marketplace, they should be happy to follow the same rules as everyone else,” the letter states. “Meat and poultry processing companies have been meeting the challenge of USDA inspection for decades. Cell-cultured meat and poultry companies can and should meet the same requirements.”
Cell-cultured meat substitutes have not been made available in the consumer market yet, but they have caused a public disagreement regarding which agency has the authority to oversee the industry. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) insists that it should be the sole regulatory agency, holding a meeting recently to discuss animal cell culture technology and the future of food safety.
The process of using animal cells to create meat-style products is uncharted territory from a regulatory standpoint. Traditionally, USDA has been responsible for overseeing meat and poultry production at the point of slaughter. Companies involved in the development of lab-grown meat substitutes believe FDA would be better suited for oversight responsibilities as the agency has more experience with biotechnology.
A significant issue for cell-cultured meat alternatives is the overall lack of knowledge about what they really are outside of the fact they are developed in a laboratory instead of being raised in a farm setting. There has been very little in-depth inspection allowed from any outside regulators or independent third parties.
Regardless of which agency is ultimately tasked with regulatory responsibilities, the lab-grown meat industry will need to make significant improvements to transparency in relation to the production process to gain any consumer interest. A recent Consumer Reports survey found that most Americans believe meat products derived from laboratory conditions should be labeled differently than conventional meat. The preferred terms given by those surveyed were “lab-grown meat” and “artificial or synthetic meat.”