Meat cultured in laboratory conditions anyaivanova/ThinkstockPhotos

Here’s why it matters which government agency regulates fake meat

This flank attack on the meat industry could disrupt U.S. agriculture.

Will the primary regulator of cell-cultured products (fake meat) be the Food and Drug Administration or the U.S. Department of Agriculture?

The answer could make a big difference to the future of agriculture. The ‘sustainable’ meat folks believe they will have an easier time controlling the future of fake meat at FDA than they would working with the red meat fans at USDA. They believe USDA is part of the problem in not shutting down the pork, beef and poultry industries because of its inhumaneness.

This is a flank attack on the meat industry by the enviros and PETA types.

Power grab?

FDA, and surprisingly members of President Trump’s White House staff, are supporting a regulatory power grab by the bureaucrats at the FDA.

Major ag organizations recently sent a letter to President Trump, which included the following statement: “At a recent public meeting held by the FDA (which excluded USDA) and at which FDA indicated it plans to assert itself as the primary regulator of cell-cultured (fake meat) products…” The letter was signed by major agricultural organizations such as the National Pork Producers, American Farm Bureau and the North American Meat Institute.

As background, consider this: The White House in June released a new government reorganization plan which suggested all food safety functions be housed in a single agency within the USDA. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service already reviews new technologies, and it is argued that cell-based protein (fake meat) production fits into USDA’s mission, not FDA’s.

Memphis Meats, a cell-based protein company, believes that its products must be subject to the same USDA inspection system to ensure such products are safe for human consumption. Memphis Meats wants to ensure its products are marketed and labeled in the same manner as other meat products. 

An August 10, 2018 letter from the Director of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to Chairman of the House Ag Committee, Mike Conaway, was unclear in assuring that USDA would be in charge of the regulatory framework for fake meat. In a “mealy mouth” statement, Director Mick Mulvany stated, “You can be assured that all of the administration’s food safety expertise that has been gleaned through the exercise of current authorities granted to the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration will be brought to bear on our consideration of proper regulatory framework for these products.”

Bill Gates is a fan

Cell-cultured meat (fake meat) is backed by individuals such as Bill Gates. Environmental groups are getting into the act because these organizations have long opposed traditional meat production. These groups see fake meat as sustainable food, but have indicated, “We’ve had the experience of watching the environmental impacts of some food products and we really can’t afford to create more unsustainable food systems that take us in another wrong direction.”

A spokesperson for Friends of the Earth claims “People have been clear that they want real, truly sustainable organic food, as opposed to venture capitalist hype which would lead us down the wrong path.”

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue has indicated in earlier statements that fake meat should be regulated by the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). FDA earlier this summer has announced it plans to be the agency overseeing fake meat. Who will win?

Recently a large number of agriculture trade representatives met with OMB, the National Economic Council and representatives from the White House Counsel’s office. It has been reported to me that this meeting was openly hostile and combative, with White House staff supporting FDA’s right to regulate fake meat.

It appears both the White House staff and FDA personnel do not understand the Federal Meat Inspection Act, which has significant scientific expertise and assures the safety of all meat and poultry products. FDA and its friends in the sustainable food movement want fake meat regulated by those who have little or no understanding of agriculture.

Congressmen Bob Aderholt, Mike Conaway, Colin Peterson and Sanford Bishop have told the White House that FDA should keep its hands off of regulating fake meat and USDA should continue its role in ensuring safety and accurate labeling of anything called meat (of course, using the word ‘meat’ is also under debate). FDA, according to its fulltime equivalent employee chart, appears to have 1,001 employees in its Food Safety Center. USDA, on the other hand, indicates in its FSIS that 9,600 individuals work to protect meat food safety.

Based on these numbers, who can do the better job protecting consumers?     

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.

TAGS: USDA FDA
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