Adding our support to call for regulatory clarity

Our friends at Memphis Meats and the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) have together written to President Donald J. Trump suggesting a path forward for the regulation of cultured meat in the United States. 

Last month, our co-founder Prof Mark Post joined an expert roundtable at Harvard Law School to discuss a question that is generating growing interest: how will cultured meat be regulated?

The roundtable, which was organised by Chris Green of the Animal Law & Policy Program, was the first to address the regulatory concerns surrounding this brand new industry.

As the introduction of the first cultured meat products appears on the horizon, regulatory agencies around the world must determine how these new products will fit into their food safety and compliance programs.

But in the US, this discussion has become complicated by the existence of two federal agencies, both of which could potentially have jurisdiction.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expertise in assessing the safety of foods produced using culturing techniques, already overseeing products such as Quorn. But it is the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) that currently regulates meat and poultry.

Even though cultured meat production facilities will have little in common with livestock feedlots and slaughterhouses, some argue that their status as meat-producing facilities places them squarely under USDA’s control.

And so has arisen the question: which agency will be in charge?

In a joint letter sent to the White House last month, Memphis Meats and meat industry association NAMI suggest that the responsibilities should in fact be shared. Under the proposal, the FDA would oversee pre-market safety evaluations for cultured meat and, once pre-market safety has been established by the FDA, the USDA would take the lead in regulating cultured meat just as it regulates livestock meat.

As a company looking to sell to the US market in future, we think this approach makes a lot of sense.

As the letter points out, existing law, practice and precedent demonstrate that both agencies have roles to play in regulating cultured meat. And the proposed division of responsibilities plays into the respective strengths and experience of the agencies, harnessing the FDA’s expertise in cell culture technology and the USDA’s longstanding role in inspecting meat products.

As Tom Mastrobuoni, Chief Financial Officer at Tyson New Ventures, pointed out at The Good Food Conference this week, ultimately it’s up to the two agencies to decide the regulatory framework, and in fact they’re already doing so. 

They have long histories of working together to ensure consumer safety and inspire public trust in new food products. We hope this joint letter offers a pathway forward for an effective collaboration by the two agencies in regulating cultured meat.

Sarah Lucas