USDA, FDA to Host Joint Lab-grown Meat Meeting with Focus on Labeling

A joint meeting on cell cultured meat or “lab-grown meat” could help direct labeling of the emerging alternative protein products, as well as address safety concerns. ( Lindsey Benne )

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will host a joint public meeting on Oct. 23-24 to address concerns about cell cultured meat also known as “lab-grown meat.”

The meeting was announced by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb on Sept. 10 with a focus on potential hazards, oversight considerations, and labeling of cell cultured food products derived from livestock and poultry.

“This is an important opportunity to hear from the agricultural industry and consumers as we consider the regulatory framework for these new products,” said Secretary Perdue. “American farmers and ranchers feed the world, but as technology advances, we must consider how to inspect and regulate to ensure food safety, regardless of the production method.”

“The FDA knows just how vital it is to ensure the safety of our nation’s food supply and the critical role science-based, modern regulatory frameworks are to fostering innovation. Recent advances in animal cell cultured food products present many important and timely technical and regulatory considerations for the FDA and our partners at USDA,” said Commissioner Gottlieb. “We look forward to the opportunity to hold a meeting with our USDA colleagues as part of an open public dialogue regarding these products.”

FDA had previously hosted a meeting in July, but no USDA officials were invited to participate.

The move to include USDA in the discussions is welcomed by livestock groups like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).

“Consumers depend on a regulatory system that ensures their food is safe and accurately labeled. That is why it is encouraging to finally see USDA involvement on the issue of regulating lab-grown fake meat. USDA’s stringent food safety inspection processes and robust labeling protections make the agency the best choice for leading oversight of these new products. NCBA looks forward to participating in the public meeting and will continue to advocate for USDA’s primary oversight role,” said Danielle Beck, director of government affairs for NCBA.

The meeting will be held at the Jefferson Auditorium in the U.S. Department of Agriculture South Building, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC, 20250. It will start on Oct. 23 running from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and focusing on potential hazards and oversight for regulatory agencies. On Oct. 24 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. the second day of meetings will focus on labeling.

This issue of labeling has been contentious for NCBA and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA). If the product is called “meat” it would then be regulated by USDA, under current rules and regulations. However, if the product isn’t called “meat” it would move to FDA.

At the FDA meeting in July, Montana rancher and USCA Board Member Maggie Nutter expressed concerns with calling cell-based protein derived from livestock “meat.”

“The United States Cattlemen’s Association has always been a strong advocate for truth and transparency in labeling.  We believe that the term ‘meat’ pertains exclusively to a protein food product that was harvested from the flesh of an animal in the traditional manner.  Cultured cell proteins would not be included in this definition,” Nutter said.

Following the meeting NCBA pressed for USDA to be included in the debate.

“NCBA applauds the pointed questions FDA has posed regarding risks, hazards and manufacturing methods of lab-grown meat food products,” said Beck. “However, the appropriate agency to ask the questions under discussion today is the agency that will ultimately have jurisdiction over lab-grown meat food products. Any fair reading of the law places lab-grown meat food products within the primary jurisdiction of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.”

On July 26, several animal agriculture industry organizations known as the “the Barnyard,” sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking him for assurance USDA will be the primary regulator of cell-cultured, lab-grown meat.

The Barnyard includes NCBA, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Sheep Industry Association, National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation and North American Meat Institute. They believe USDA is better suited to regulate lab-grown meat than FDA.

In response to the letter sent by the Barnyard group, a statement by USCA supported discussion on regulations but questioned if USDA is better suited than FDA.

Following those developments another letter was sent to the White House, this time by Memphis Meats, Inc. – a company focused on cell-based meats – and the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) – a trade association representing beef, pork, lamb, veal and poultry packers or processors. The joint letter sent on Aug. 23 asked for regulatory clarity.

“As leaders and partners in meeting the world’s protein needs, we know that largescale production methods, small-scale farming, and cell-based meat and poultry production methods will all play a role. Cell-based meat products are meat produced from animal cells in cell culture. They are an ‘and,’ not an ‘or,’ solution, and the latest in a long history of innovation in American agriculture,” wrote Uma Valeti, co-founder and CEO of Memphis Meats, and Barry Carpenter, president and CEO of NAMI.

At the joint meeting in October representatives of industry, consumer groups and other stakeholders are invited to participate. Attendees are encouraged to pre-register to attend the meeting. Pre-registration is available at the Meetings and Events page on the FSIS website.

Anyone who wishes to submit written comments prior to the public meeting or after the meeting may do so by submitting comments on by Nov. 26, 2018. Comments previously submitted to FDA in regard to the July 12 public meeting will also be considered.

For further information on the joint public meeting and to register to attend the meeting, please visit the Meetings and Events page on the FSIS website. Attendance is free.

For more on plant-based and lab-grown meat labeling read the following stories: