Getting to the ‘meat’ of the matter (Editorial)
A joint meeting of the USDA and Food and Drug Administration last month further fueled the debate over what to call lab-grown meat-like food and what agency should have jurisdiction over its regulation.
Several U.S. cell-cultured meat companies are developing products that are already available in certain markets and could be widely available in just a few years.
USDA has said if it’s going to be considered meat, USDA should be in charge of inspection and regulation of the labs where it’s grown. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service inspectors are in federally inspected meat and poultry slaughter plants during all hours of operation and in meat, poultry, catfish, and egg processing plants during each shift. During this time, inspectors are conducting food safety activities, including sanitation checks and pathogen and residue testing.
FDA has claimed oversight because of its expertise in regulating new food technology and food additives.
FDA inspections are on a periodic basis, and inspectors are not in facilities during all hours of operation. The Food Safety Modernization Act provided FDA with new authorities focused on good manufacturing practices and hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls that are designed to prevent food safety problems. FSMA also provided FDA with mandatory recall authority and increased the frequency of the inspection of high-risk food facilities.
The first day of the joint meeting on Oct. 23 and 24 in Washington, D.C. focused on regulations related to alternative proteins, while the second day was aimed at discussing labeling of such products.
Ahead of the October public meeting, leading groups on both sides of the issue agreed to use the term “cell-based meat” going forward but the debate isn’t fully settled as lab-grown proponents have advocated the misleading and pejorative “clean meat” descriptor and farm and ranch groups call it “fake meat.”
Adding confusion are companies making plant-based imitation meats with labeling that varies in honesty as to what they are really selling. Los Angeles-based Beyond Meat has no qualms about calling it’s plant-based products meat, even though its 20 ingredients don’t mention meat of any kind. Netherlands company, The Vegetarian Buthcher is more straightforward, calling its products “nochicken,” “nobeef” and “nosausage” but only due to a mandate from the country’s agriculture agency.
However the regulatory duties are divvied up and whatever name eventually wins out, it doesn’t fully address the larger issue that lab-grown meat cuts out the farmer altogether.
Past technological advances in agriculture, genetically modified corn or soybeans for example, still includes the farmer as the foundational component, increasing bags of seed to trailers full of grain.
With lab-grown meat, only a tiny bit of actual meat is taken from a live animal to then grow what would be packaged and sold, the complete opposite of most technology in agriculture that gives farmers improved tools and empowers them to increase yields and grow animals faster and healthier to feed the planet.
The public, with an ever-increasing demand for meat, hopefully aware of the difference between meat grown in a lab and meat raised on a farm, will decide if it’s a step forward or backward.
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