Level playing field and bright lines: GFI advocates for fair clean meat regulation at USDA & FDA

USDA and FDA held a joint public meeting on to advance the conversation around clean meat regulation. GFI advocated firmly for a fair regulatory path to market under the existing regulatory structures. Our friends at JUST, Finless Foods, BlueNalu, UPSIDE Foods, and many others joined the conversation as well.
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The United States has long been at the cutting edge of agricultural innovation. However, how the federal government handles clean meat regulation will be a key determinant in whether or not the U.S. remains a leader in the next global agricultural transformation.

Earlier this week, GFI Director of Policy Jessica Almy took to the pages of The Hill to illustrate how the U.S. can continue to lead agriculture advancement by encouraging clean meat innovation and ensuring a fair and straightforward regulatory path to market for clean meat companies.

On October 23 and 24, USDA and FDA held a joint public meeting on “The Use of Cell Culture Technology to Develop Products Derived from Livestock and Poultry” to advance the conversation around clean meat regulation. This public meeting allowed experts at both agencies to explain how they ensure the food supply is safe through premarket review, inspection, and labeling as well as address questions related to clean meat and open the floor for public comment. GFI spoke several times at this two-day event, joined by our friends at JUST, Finless Foods, BlueNalu, and many others.

GFI Senior Regulatory Specialist Elan Abrell offered our opening comments, making the case for clean meat to be regulated within the current system while being labeled clearly and accurately. He concluded:

As Secretary [of Agriculture] Perdue astutely observed to reporters earlier this month, “We don’t want this new technology to feel like they’ve got to go offshore or outside the United States to get a fair regulatory protocol.” GFI agrees wholeheartedly. Some foreign governments have already begun investing in cultured meat companies as a means of addressing food security, food safety, antibiotic resistance, and climate change. The U.S. is currently home to some of the leading cultured meat companies, and the U.S. can and should play a leading role in bringing clean meat to the global market in a way that is safe, efficient, and fair. That’s why it’s critically important to guarantee all producers are playing on a level playing field.

In the afternoon, Jessica expanded on our position, saying in part:

As the presentations by Dr. Bronstein and Ms. Scott have elucidated, both agencies — FDA and USDA — have approaches that adequately deal with hazard analysis and preventive controls that include recordkeeping and inspection. I’d encourage FDA and USDA to continue dialogue with each other and stakeholders to develop a clear regulatory path to market. We are encouraged by the comments of both Secretary Perdue and Commissioner Gottlieb who have outlined a regulatory process with “bright lines.”

Nigel Barrella, a food lawyer who co-authored GFI’s petition to the FDA on plant-based labels, made the point that “producers have a First Amendment right to explain their products to consumers in the most natural understandable terms.” As we’ve oft discussed, it is important to get the language right because attitudes can be manipulated by dishonest labels.

Making a related point, Mike Selden of Finless Foods emphasized that honest labels will be key to their success: “We have no interest in confusing people — we want consumers to buy with intention.” Finless Foods’ clean fish has benefits that set it apart from conventional fish: no mercury, no plastic, no harm to the ocean, no animal cruelty. Making those differences clear will be an essential aspect of Finless’ go-to-market strategy. Mike also noted it will be important that these products be labeled accurately using the words “beef,” “chicken,” “salmon,” etc., so people with allergies can know not to consume them.

The meeting touched on another important benefit of clean meat: it doesn’t require antibiotics. Currently, the vast majority of antibiotics produced are not used to make sick people well. Instead, these drugs are fed to animals at subclinical doses — the perfect way to drive more antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Peter Licari from leading clean meat company JUST brought this point home, emphasizing that JUST’s clean chicken is produced without antibiotics.

A related advantage of clean meat is the lack of feces and subsequent lack of fecal contamination. During his remarks, Thomas Gremillion of the Consumer Federation noted that conventional meat and poultry are directly responsible for 29% of deaths from foodborne illnesses.

Liz Holtz of ALDF (one of our partners in our Missouri First Amendment lawsuit) noted that most people don’t know the reality of conventional animal farming. If explaining the method of production for clean meat is important, the production of conventional meat should also be clearly conveyed to consumers. #transparency

Statements by representatives from FDA and USDA recognized both the benefits from and importance of this better way of producing meat, and to move with deliberate speed to address regulatory questions. As reported by Politico, “Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb vowed to work together, and work fast, to divvy up regulatory responsibility between the two agencies. Perdue said additional interagency meetings were on tap, and he suggested a regulatory framework might come together in relatively short order — as in, next year.”  

(For even more on this meeting, please see Food Navigator’s excellent coverage.)  

We thank the FDA and USDA for the opportunity to share our insights and help move clean meat closer to the market. The meeting was an important step towards enabling the U.S. to continue to feed the world with food innovation.