The future of cell-cultured “meat” — food products that have been grown from animal cells with no livestock slaughter involved — is almost here.
After a joint meeting and call for public comment last month, the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture have released a statement announcing the joint oversight of this new alternative-meat industry. The public comment period has also been extended to Dec. 26.
The joint statement from both agencies further explained that the FDA will oversee the product cultivation, including cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth and differentiation, while the USDA will regulate production and labeling of the food products.
“The USDA and FDA are confident that this regulatory framework can be successfully implemented and assure the safety of these products,” the Nov. 16 statement said.
The agencies also concluded that “no further legislation” will be necessary to oversee and regulate this budding industry.
Perhaps significantly, the USDA/FDA statement does not refer to the cell-cultivated products as “meat.”
Meat and livestock industry groups have opposed use of the term “meat” in reference to such products, as well as other descriptors in common use.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, or NCBA, for example expressed concern that terminology associated with the cultivated meat, like the phrase “clean,” would villainize traditional beef as “dirty.”
After the most recent USDA/FDA update, the NCBA said it believes there is still has a long way to go to promote fair competition.
“This announcement that the USDA would have primary jurisdiction over the most important facets of lab-produced fake meat is a step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to do on this issue to ensure that real beef producers and consumers are protected and treated fairly,” Colin Woodall, senior vice president of government affairs at NCBA said in a statement.
Producers of cell-cultured food products, however — who prefer the term “cultured meat” — welcomed the joint USDA/FDA oversight, saying it represents another step toward what they hope will be the mass production of “clean-meat” innovations for widespread consumption.
“It is critically important that the United States have a sound and sensible approach to regulating cultured meat products,” said a spokesperson with Just Inc., the meat and plant-based food company formerly known as Hampton Creek. “The United States has an opportunity to lead the world in this transformative industry […] Establishing a regulatory framework for cultured meat quickly and efficiently is vital. Otherwise, the public will be deprived of these anticipated benefits.”
Just Inc. plans to produce its first commercially viable cultivated-meat chicken product by the end of this year, while other alterative meat companies like Mosa Meat and Memphis Meats are planning to launch cultivated beef and poultry products by 2020 and 2021.
Just Inc. is also calling for uniform terminology and definitions for the emerging industry.
Other terms like “lab-grown meat,” “clean meat,” and “cruelty-free meat” — or even “motherless meat” — have been used by the media. Just Inc. said that they prefer the term “cultured meat” because many food products are “lab-grown.”
“Ultimately, the meat we’re making will be created in large cultivators and will resemble a beer brewery or similar facility used for production of cultured food products,” a Just spokesperson said. “As such, we call our meat ‘cultured meat.’”
In testimony at the FDA/USDA joint public hearing last month, Peter Licari, Just’s chief technology officer, said he believes both agencies should issue a regulatory nomenclature to consistently “differentiate cell-cultured products from traditional meat products but appropriately acknowledge these products as meat.”
He also suggested that all labels of cultured-meat products should include the brand name and “statement of identity” that clearly demarcates the product’s origins.
Just Inc. is not the only company lauding the federal agencies for moving forward with cell-cultured meat regulation.
Finless Foods — a seafood-alternative company producing lab-cultivated bluefin tuna — emphasized they are glad the agencies are moving forward with regulation without needing new legislation.
“We welcome seeing a clear roadmap develop for regulation of these products,” Finless Foods said in a statement on Twitter. “We think working with regulators is the best way to engender public trust and so are excited to continue on this path.”
The Good Food Institute — a nonprofit organization that promotes clean-meat alternatives — agrees that a swift path forward is best.
“The governments of Israel, Japan, and Singapore have already signaled significant interest in this important food technology, and so we share FDA’s and USDA’s commitment to ensuring a clear regulatory path forward for cell-based meat as quickly as possible,” the Good Food Institute said in a statement.
Restaurant Hospitality reached out to the USDA for further information, but the agency did not comment in time for publication.
Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]
Follow her on Twitter: @JoannaFantozzi