Livestock and poultry organizations last week sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to ensure USDA has primary regulatory authority over lab-grown meat and poultry products.
They said protecting the health and welfare of consumers is their top priority and that goal is achieved under USDA’s comprehensive regulatory system.
Signing the letter were American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation, American Sheep Industry Association and North American Meat Institute.
The letter follows a recent FDA public meeting, which they say excluded USDA and at which FDA indicated it plans to assert itself as the primary regulator of cell-cultured products.
“Cell-cultured protein products that purport to be meat or poultry should be subject to the same comprehensive inspection system that governs other amenable meat and poultry products to ensure they are wholesome and safe for consumers and to ensure they are labeled and marketed in a manner that provides a level playing field in the marketplace,” the groups said.
USDA is uniquely equipped to ensure both elements. Its inspectors are on site daily and the agency approves all product labels to ensure products are what they claim to be and to prevent consumers from being misled, they said.
Cell-cultured meat and poultry companies can and should meet the same requirements meat and poultry processing companies have been meeting for decades, they said.
FDA’s regulatory power grab is inconsistent with the administration’s recently released government reorganization plan that includes moving primary food-safety functions into a single agency within USDA, they said.
U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, which submitted a petition for rulemaking to USDA in February requesting that lab-grown products not be labeled as beef or meat, said the groups’ comments to the president ignore the most pressing element of the issue.
“Cell-cultured protein needs to be labeled for what it is — and alternative food product that is not beef or meat as consumers currently know it,” Kenny Graner, USCA president, said in a statement to the press on Thursday.
“USCA has called on Congress and the administration to engage on this pivotal issue and implement policies that will get ahead of consumer confusion in the marketplace by enforcing truth in labeling and facilitating inter-agency dialogue,” he said.
The Good Food Institute, a plant-based food advocate, also released a statement in response to the groups’ letter to Trump, saying FDA has demonstrated the expertise necessary to provide adequate oversight of cultured proteins.
However, the Institute and cultured-protein companies stand ready to work with whichever regulatory agency ultimately regulates the products, Jessica Almy, GFI director of policy, said.
“What is most important is that there is a single point of entry into the regulatory framework … and that the path to market is not complicated by red tape or politically driven opposition to innovation that can provide consumers with safe food choices,” she said.