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lab chicken Memphis Meats

'Fake meat' regulatory pathway should include FDA and USDA

Memphis Meats and North American Meat Institute believe FDA should have oversight of pre-market safety evaluations and USDA for inspecting meat and poultry products.

Cell-cultured meat company Memphis Meats and the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) sent a letter Thursday to President Donald Trump requesting that the Administration clarify the regulatory framework for cell-based meat and poultry products, based on the existing comprehensive system that ensures that U.S. consumers enjoy the safest and most affordable food in the world.

Memphis Meats and NAMI identified their preferred regulatory pathway for cell-based meat and poultry, which includes oversight by both Food & Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In the letter, they noted that in order to ensure that the regulatory system protects consumers while fostering innovation, it is imperative that FDA and USDA coordinate and collaborate in their efforts, consistent with established policy. In recent months, a turf war appeared to be brewing when FDA first solicited comments on the technology while USDA stated that its view was that it would be overseeing the regulatory actions of the new  products, which may be found in the meat aisle. Many meat commodity groups have also said they prefer USDA oversight of the products to ensure that they adhere to the same standard as meat and poultry.

“As leaders and partners in meeting the world’s protein needs, we know that large-scale 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,” the letter stated.

“As is the case for other new or novel foods or food ingredients, including those made from or otherwise used in meat and poultry products, FDA should have oversight over pre-market safety evaluations for cell-based meat and poultry products,” the letter detailed. “Historically, for evaluations relating to meat or poultry products, USDA has provided input to FDA as part of this process.

“Given USDA’s expertise in regulating meat and poultry, that role should continue," the letter continued. "After pre-market safety has been established with FDA, USDA should regulate cell-based meat and poultry products, as it does with all other meat and poultry products, applying relevant findings from FDA’s safety evaluation to ensure products are safe, wholesome and properly labeled.” 

The letter explained that such a regulatory framework is not new and plays into the strengths and experience of FDA and USDA. “FDA has extensive expertise regarding products produced using cell culture technology, and USDA has a long-standing role in inspecting meat and poultry products.”

Memphis Meats and NAMI added, “The United States is currently the world leader in protein production, including cell-based meats, but we will not maintain that position without regulatory clarity.”

As a next step, they requested a combined meeting with the White House, USDA, FDA and both conventional and cell-based meat and poultry industry stakeholders, themselves included.

Following the news of the letter, U.S. Cattlemen’s Assn. (USCA) president Kenny Graner said USCA was the first to take action on the emergence of lab-grown and plant-based protein alternatives at the beginning of the year by submitting its petition for rule-making to USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS).

“We’ve always advocated a three-prong approach in the jurisdiction of this product – involving Congress, USDA and FDA. Today’s announcement is a positive step forward, but there is still work to be done as we look to how these products are ultimately labeled and whether they are included at the meat counter,” Graner said. “We appreciate the effort being taken by Memphis Meats today and look forward to keeping the dialogue open as this product moves towards its public release date.”

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