America's next big food fight: lab meats
As 2018 draws to a close, foodies and food producers alike are all talking about one major hot topic -- cell cultured proteins. In fact, Tyson's Trendtellers recently listed lab meats, and other alternative protein sources, as one of the six emer...
As 2018 draws to a close, foodies and food producers alike are all talking about one major hot topic - cell cultured proteins.
In fact, Tyson's Trendtellers recently listed lab meats, and other alternative protein sources, as one of the six emerging food trends for 2019.
With investors ramping up production with the intention of rolling out their chicken nuggets, fish filets, eggs and burger patties, all grown in "meat breweries" within the next couple of years, only two hurdles stand in their way - regulations and nomenclature.
In October, USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service and the Food and Drug Administration hosted a joint public meeting to discuss the potential hazards, oversight considerations and labeling of cell cultured food products derived from livestock and poultry tissue.
After two days of testimonies from producers, retailers, food professionals, investors and consumers, the two government agencies released statements announcing that the FDA and USDA would share joint regulatory oversight of cell cultured proteins.
The statement was issued by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. The agencies propose, "a joint regulatory framework wherein FDA oversees cell collection, cell banks and cell growth differentiation. A transition from FDA to USDA oversight will occur during the cell harvest stage. USDA will then oversee the production and labeling of food products derived from the cells of livestock and poultry.
They added, "Because our agencies have the statutory authority necessary to appropriately regulate cell-cultured food products derived from livestock and poultry, the Administration does not believe that legislation on this topic is necessary."
A public comment period on this topic is open on the Federal Register until Dec. 26, giving all parties ample time to voice concerns on oversight, labeling, regulatory procedures and safety considerations for these cell cultured food products.
"This is the United States' next big food fight, and some companies are anticipating first market entry of cell cultured chicken nuggets as early as 2019," said Danielle Beck, National Cattlemen's Beef Association director of government affairs. "These products can be created from a single plucked chicken feather or the skill cell of a pig.
Beck recently provided an update on this topic to ranchers attending the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association's 70th Annual Convention & Trade Show held in Huron, S.D., Nov. 27-29.
"Ultimately, what's holding these companies back is the uncertain regulatory framework," she said. "There are still so many unanswered questions. Is it meat? When does muscle tissue become meat? What are the labeling considerations? How do we ensure these products are safe? The regulatory framework must preserve an even playing field for all products to compete, regardless of production method."
Without a doubt, Americans love meat. The average U.S. consumer will eat a record-high 222 lbs. of meat annually, according to the USDA. And these new meat food products promise more than your average hamburger; investors are making claims on sustainability, nutrition, animal welfare and more.
"This has been a much longer battle than any of us would like," said Beck. "As the comment period proceeds, internally we need to have conversations about what we can live with. Whether these products are called lab grown, cell cultured, magic meat, synthetic beef or imitation beef, a mandatory label is a must to differentiate these products in the meat case."
Per the Federal Meat Inspection Act, Beck said regulatory definitions already in the books would place cell cultured proteins under the definition of a meat byproduct.
"When considering the definitions of meat, meat food products and meat byproducts, the most fitting for these lab proteins would be meat byproducts, which have very different requirements than what traditional meat does. That's what we are advocating for."
To submit a written comment on this topic online, visit: www.regulations.gov/document?D=FSIS-2018-0036-0001 .