The nation’s second-largest general farm organization backed efforts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food & Drug Administration to establish a joint regulatory framework overseeing the production and sale of animal cell culture technology.
National Farmers Union (NFU) president Roger Johnson submitted comments to the two agencies to that effect, urging them to provide clarity to consumers as to whether or not they are purchasing meat products raised in the traditional manner or products that were grown in a lab.
“Animal cell culture technology needs to be regulated and should include roles for both the USDA Food Safety & Inspection Service and the FDA,” Johnson said. “It is important that this joint regulatory framework promotes fair competition for producers and the health and safety of consumers.”
Johnson noted that NFU’s member-driven policy opposes labeling alternative protein sources as “meat” and that common names given to meat and animal products are widely understood by consumers to be the tissue and flesh of animals that have been slaughtered for food.
“Foods produced using animal cell culture technology are not slaughtered but, rather, are derived from animal cells grown in a petri dish and other growing media,” he explained. “Thus, NFU opposes labeling of foods produced using cell culture applications as ‘meat’ and as related products such as ‘beef,’ ‘poultry’ and ‘seafood.’”
Johnson urged USDA and FDA to establish and clarify the standard of identity for the term “meat” in order to prevent mislabeling of food in the marketplace. FDA has the responsibility under the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act to deem a food “misbranded” if its labeling is false or misleading, if it is offered for sale under the name of another food or if it is an imitation of another food. “Labeling foods produced using animal cell culture technology as ‘meat’ and other related products would be false and misleading,” he noted.
NFU delivered more extensive comments on cell culture technology to FDA in September, adding that consolidation in the beef, pork and poultry industries has diminished the market share of family farmers and ranchers.
“Lab-grown products are likely to be produced by large companies, including the major global meatpackers, exacerbating the anticompetitive practices facing family farmers and ranchers and the rural communities in which they live,” Johnson said. “Fairly and accurately labeling animal cell culture products would provide some protection for family farmers’ and ranchers’ market share.”