‘Barnyard’ group wants Trump to give USDA power over lab-grown meat

Aggies express their beef

A coalition of livestock and meat industry groups have appealed to President Donald Trump that he ensure the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be the primary regulatory authority over lab-grown, or—in their language—“fake” meat.

In a letter sent July 26, the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Sheep Industry Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation and the North American Meat Institute asked Trump to hold USDA responsible for regulation of lab-grown meat, rather than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The groups argue the Federal Meat Inspection Act designates USDA as the main oversight body for emerging lab-grown products. However, in recent weeks FDA has moved aggressively to assert regulatory jurisdiction over lab-grown fake meat. The coalition, calling themselves “The Barnyard,” want Trump to make a stand in their favor, because they say it will preserve a fair and competitive marketplace for all meat and poultry products, regardless of the method in which these products are produced.

“Our members raise and process cattle, sheep, hogs, turkeys and chickens to feed families in the United States and around the world. Protecting the health and welfare of consumers is our top priority and this goal is achieved under a comprehensive regulatory system administered by the United States Department of Agriculture,” the letter said. “That system ensures all meat and poultry products are held to the same rigorous food safety and labeling standards. Anything less is a grave disservice to consumers and producers.”

The group referred to a recent FDA public meeting that excluded input from USDA in which FDA indicated it plans to assert itself as the primary regulator of lab-grown, cell-cultured products.

“A representative of a cell-cultured protein company stated, ‘Our beef is beef, our chicken is chicken.’ If that is so, then cell-cultured protein products that purport to be meat or poultry should be subject to the same comprehensive inspection system that governs other amenable meat and poultry products to ensure they are wholesome and safe for consumption, and to ensure they are labeled and marketed in a manner that provides a level playing field in the marketplace,” the letter said.

The groups told Trump that USDA is uniquely equipped to ensure both elements; with inspectors on-site daily, and USDA should approve all product labels to ensure products are what they claim to be and to prevent consumers from being misled.

“Meat and poultry processing companies have been meeting the challenge of USDA inspection for decades. Cell-cultured meat and poultry companies can and should meet the same requirements,” the letter said.

“Ironically, this regulatory power grab by FDA comes on the heels of the White House’s recently released government reorganization plan that included moving primary federal food safety functions into a single agency housed within the USDA. Having cell-cultured protein products regulated by FDA is not only inconsistent with the meat and poultry inspection statutes, but also with the White House’s reorganization plan.

“Undoubtedly, USDA’s exacting standards impose regulatory burdens on meat and poultry producers—as they should. However, if cell-cultured protein companies want the privilege of marketing their products as meat and poultry products to the American public, in order to ensure a fair and competitive marketplace, they should be happy to follow the same rules as everyone else. Consumers expect and deserve nothing less.”


Further group response

NCBA President Kevin Kester said in a separate release, “The American people elected President Trump because they trusted him to promote a level playing field for American products around the world. Now, the president has the chance to demonstrate his support for free and fair markets right here at home. By supporting USDA oversight of lab-grown fake meat, the president will protect American consumers and ensure that America’s farmers and ranchers are not disadvantaged in the marketplace.”

NPPC President Jim Heimerl said in a statement, “While we know very little about the production methods of laboratory-produced cultured products, alternative protein companies are clearly working to present their products as real meat while seeking FDA oversight that would allow them to avoid rigorous inspection, labeling scrutiny and other regulations faced by livestock agriculture. These companies—and their unsubstantiated claims about the sustainability, safety and ethics of their products—must be accountable to the same group that regulates the real meat they are striving to mimic.

“It’s deeply disturbing to U.S. pork producers to see the FDA adopt a Luddite-like regulatory approach that threatens the global competitiveness of U.S. agriculture. Common sense regulations have helped make U.S. pork the global leader, and we can’t afford to cede such an important innovation to the rest of the world.”

In a statement, United States Cattlemen’s Association said lab-produced products need to be labeled differently than field-produced products.

“USCA agrees that progress must continue in addressing the regulatory questions surrounding cell-cultured protein, but today’s comments by the national meat lobbying groups ignore the most pressing elements of this issue,” USCA President Kenny Graner said.

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“Cell-cultured protein needs to be labeled for what it is—an alternative food product that is not beef or meat as consumers currently know it. As new technologies continue to emerge, a one size fits all governmental approach will simply not work.”


For “clean meat beef, chicken, pork, and fish”

Jessica Almy, director of policy for The Good Food Institute, a non-profit group that supports marketing of lab-based, or—in their language—“clean” meat, said, “The Food and Drug Administration has demonstrated the expertise necessary to provide adequate oversight of clean meat. Additionally, it is clear that FDA will have authority over most or all varieties of clean meat fish. Given that the methods of production will be the same, splitting oversight of the same process between two agencies would be duplicative and costly. So it makes sense that FDA would regulate clean beef, chicken and pork as well.

“That said, The Good Food Institute and the companies in this space stand ready to work with whichever regulatory agency ultimately regulates clean meat. What is most important is that there is a single point of entry into the regulatory framework, as the National Academy of Sciences has articulated, and that the path to market is not complicated by red tape or politically driven opposition to innovation that can provide consumers with safe food choices.

“We are heartened to see meat companies like Cargill and Tyson invest in clean meat. The big-picture question here is: How will the world produce enough protein to adequately feed almost 10 billion people by 2050? Clean meat and fish are part of the answer, and the United States can play an important role in bringing them to market in a way that is safe, efficient and fair.”

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or [email protected].