Who will regulate cell-based proteins in the United States?

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is a unit of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, have come to an agreement on how the growing cell-based meat industry will be regulated in the United States.

FDA will oversee cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth and differentiation. The oversight will transfer from FDA to FSIS during the cell harvest stage. FSIS will oversee the production and labeling of human food products that are made from the cells of livestock and poultry. The shared oversight is to ensure that food products derived from cell-cultures are produced safely and are accurately labeled. You can read the whole agreement, and all it’s legal jargon, here. The Meat Institute, National Turkey Federation, and the Good Food Institute have indicated their support for the joint oversight, although the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association reiterated their position that the term ‘meat’ should not be used. Specifically, their position is that the term ‘beef’ should refer only to “products derived exclusively from the flesh of a bovine animal harvested in the traditional manner.” Under this joint agreement between FSIS and FDA, a USDA meat inspection stamp will be used on cell-based products, which they oppose. They feel a new stamp should be created specifically for cell-based products using a different format and color of ink.

As shown in the graphic below, cultured ‘meat’ is produced from stem cells derived from the animal, the cow in this case, are placed in growth serum to produce myotube fibers of meat. these are then combined to form muscle tissue. The finished product can then be used in meat products, such as hamburgers.

Grahics for showing the processing for developoing cultured 'meat'
Graphics showing the process for developing cultured ‘meat’ (Image by Lilkin from Shutterstock.com)

When is meat not meat?

January 1, 2019 a new Missouri law took affect that state that meat must be derived from harvested livestock or poultry in order to be labeled as meat. Right away the law was challenged. Turtle Island Foods under the Tofurky Company and the non-profit Good Food Institute immediately filed a lawsuit. Good Food Institute advocates for plant- and cell-based alternatives to conventional meat products. They say the law violates their constitutional rights of free speech – see https://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/Meatless.pdf . The attorneys involved have reached an settlement although the details have not been finalized and won’t be made public till next month. The results will have an effect on other states as well. Similar legislation has been introduced in Nebraska, Mississippi, Washington, Arizona and Arkansas. A bill in Virginia was voted down.