The lack of regulatory oversight on alternative protein does an injustice to consumers and creates an unfair advantage over conventional producers, says the National Pork Producers Council. Also, NPPC feels that putting gene-editing technology under the Food and Drug Administration instead of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is ludicrous.
Producers are already feeling economic pressure as a result of global trade retaliation against American agriculture, and now, the industry is facing additional challenges in the form of a "regulatory land grab by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration," says NPPC.
The organization recently called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to assert its proper oversight of these two issues that are vitally important to the future of animal agriculture.
Alternative Proteins Want It Both Ways
NPPC points out that alternative proteins include those that are plant-based as well as cultured products grown in a lab. According to the organization, the FDA hosted a public hearing last Thursday "to address regulatory oversight of cultured products that are engineered in a lab to look, smell and taste like real meat," it said in a news release. "While the viability, production practices and environmental impact of these products are shrouded in secrecy, the misleading marketing plans of the companies producing such products are clear, with animal imagery and terms such as “clean meat” and “prime beef” used in their packaging prototypes.
"NPPC is urging the Trump administration to establish a level playing field by establishing regulatory authority over laboratory-produced cultured protein products with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, where they will be required to comply with the same regulatory standards, including continuous inspection, process controls, antemortem and postmortem inspection of source animals and other requirements, as conventionally produced red meat and poultry products," the release said."
“While we know very little about the production methods of laboratory-produced cultured products, alternative protein companies are clearly working to present their products as real meat while seeking FDA oversight that would allow them to avoid rigorous inspection, labeling scrutiny and other regulations faced by livestock agriculture,” said NPPC President Jim Heimerl, a pork producer from Johnstown, Ohio in the release. “These companies – and their unsubstantiated claims about the sustainability, safety and ethics of their products – must be accountable to the same group that regulates the real meat they are striving to mimic.”
FDA Oversight will Strangle Gene Editing Potential
Producers recognize that gene editing holds tremendous potential for U.S. pork in terms of food safety, animal health and welfare benefits.
"It is an emerging innovation that allows for simple changes to be made within a pig’s native genetic structure without introducing genes from other species," NPPC said. "Gene editing simply accelerates genetic improvements that could be realized naturally over time through breeding."
It explains that emerging applications include the use of gene editing to produce pigs resistant to Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, a highly contagious swine disease that causes significant animal suffering and has cost the U.S. pork industry millions of dollars.
The FDA currently holds regulatory authority over gene editing in food producing animals says NPPC, "despite the lack of any statutory requirement. As a result, an animal health breakthrough that will dramatically enhance animal care and food safety and support economic prosperity in rural America faces an impractical, lengthy and expensive approval process that will render it unavailable to American farmers..." NPPC said. "FDA oversight will treat any gene-edited animal as a living animal drug – and every farm raising them a drug manufacturing facility – undermining U.S. agricultural competitiveness relative to other countries with more progressive gene editing regulatory policies."
The organization is urging the Trump administration to move regulatory oversight of gene editing in animals from the FDA to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. APHIS, which, it says, already regulates gene editing in plants, can ensure a proper, risk-based regulatory review under the Animal Health Protection Act.
“It’s deeply disturbing to U.S. pork producers to see the FDA adopt a Luddite-like regulatory approach that threatens the global competitiveness of U.S. agriculture,” said Heimerl in the NPPC news release. “Common sense regulations have helped make U.S. pork the global leader, and we can’t afford to cede such an important innovation to the rest of the world.”