Earlier this month, Eat Well Global attended the 8th Annual Food Policy Impact Conference hosted by the American Society for Nutrition and the Institute of Food Technologists in Washington, D.C. The event, chaired by Dr. Taylor Wallace, covered a variety of topics from food labeling policy updates to the international food policy landscape. In addition to the engaging speakers and discussions, the conference hosted a discussion titled Controversy Panel on Cell-Cultured Meat. Speakers on this panel included Brian Ronholm, Senior Director of Regulatory Policy at Arent Fox LLP; Deepti Kulkarni, Partner at Sidley Austin LLP; and Jessica Almy, Director of Policy at the Good Food Institute.

Cell-cultured meat, also known as lab-grown meat or clean meat, is generated through a complex process using cells from healthy animals and combining it with other compounds. It is a process that scientists have performed in labs for years but has just now hit the consumer market. Emerging brands bringing these consumer products to market posit that creating and eating lab-grown meat is more sustainable, as it cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption, and allows us to grow only the parts of the animal we would be consuming, thus reducing waste. Yet, there are many contentious issues that arise surrounding cell-cultured meat. The panelists discussed how both marketing and regulation controversies over lab-grown meat have transpired and continue to ensue debate.

Controversy over Regulation

The panelists first discussed the controversy of which federal agency had authority over regulating lab-grown meat. The FDA claims jurisdiction over ensuring the safety of the food supply, whereas the USDA plays a lead role in regulating meat, poultry, and egg products. The lab-grown meat advocates on the panel were adamant that the USDA not gain full authority over their product in fear that the department would suppress innovative technologies on behalf of the livestock industry. This so-called “turf war” over regulation of lab-grown meat between the FDA and the USDA that began in the summer of 2018 has finally resulted in a joint regulatory framework allowing both federal agencies to oversee different parts of the cell-cultured meat production process. The FDA will oversee the cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth and differentiation, while the USDA will regulate the production and food labeling of cell-cultured meats.

Controversy over Representation

At this point in the discussion, the panelists turned to their differing perspectives on consumer transparency and how these lab-grown meats should be labeled and marketed to consumers. Jessica Almy, Director of Policy at the Good Food Institute, stated that her organization believed that lab-grown meat should be labeled simply as ‘meat’ rather than phrases like ‘clean meat’ or ‘lab-grown meat’. While the nutritious value of lab-grown meat compared to real meat has not been fully evaluated, the discussion around labeling remains a contentious topic. As of February 2019, a handful of states are attempting to pass laws requiring the clear labeling of lab-grown meat, with several plant-based organizations pushing back, worried about the misrepresentation of their products. So, what is next for lab-grown meat, and what can we expect from the USDA regarding labeling? We’ll be keeping our finger on the pulse of this ever-evolving regulatory landscape.