Lab-grown meat production continues to advance while USDA, FDA regulations develop
“Beef producers work hard every day to produce the safest, most nutritious, affordable protein,” says Danielle Beck, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association director of government affairs. “They’re really proud of everything that the term ‘beef’ stands for because it’s associated with that legacy.”
She continues, “We set out last year looking to protect an even playing field for all products to compete moving forward.”
Today, USDA and the Food and Drug Administration are the key players in regulating lab-grown meat products, but all “barnyard” trade association – ranging from National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the North American Meat Institute to American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and more ‒ have all engaged.
Traditional protein companies, Silicon Valley, animal rights activists and consumer groups are also involved.
“This conversation has made strange bedfellows, too,” says Beck, who notes that common ground has been found between traditional protein producers and consumer safety groups seeking truth in labeling.
On March 7, a formal agreement was announced by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that lays out the framework under which the agencies will share regulation of cell-cultured products.
Under the agreement, FDA “oversees cell collection, cell banks and cell growth and differentiation. A transition from FDA to FSIS oversight will occur during the cell harvest stage. FSIS will oversee the production and labeling of human food products derived from the cells of livestock and poultry.”
“We recognize that our stakeholders want clarity on how we will move forward with a regulatory regime to ensure the safety and proper labeling of these cell-cultured human food products while continuing to encourage innovation,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response. “Collaboration between USDA and FDA will allow us to draw upon the unique expertise of each agency in addressing the many important technical and regulatory considerations that can arise with the development of animal cell-cultured food products for human consumption.”
The American Meat Science Association put out a paper in 2017 seeking to set standards for lab-grown or cell-cultured meat.
“To be considered meat, these products must be comparable in composition and sensory characteristics to meat derived naturally from animals,” reads the paper. “In particular, the essential amino and fatty acid composition, macro and micro nutrient content and processing functionality should meet or exceed those of conventional meat.”
“This is probably the best scientific assessment that we have on hand, but these products are yet to be vetted under a microscope,” Beck emphasizes. “I think it’s critically important that science is driving this debate and the regulatory framework governing these products.”
While requests have been made to analyze samples, cell-cultured meat products have not been microscopically examined.
Producing cell-cultured meat
The first cell-cultured burger was unveiled in the European Union in 2013, and it cost $300,000 to bring to the table.
“That cost of production has gone down a lot, from $300,000 to $11 for the same burger,” Beck says. “The technology is continuously evolving.”
At one point, cells were collected from a recently slaughtered animal. Then, they were collected from a biopsy of a live animal.
“Cells can now be collected from the tip of a chicken feather or hair plucked from a hog’s back,” Beck says.
She continues, “The growth medium used to be a fetal bovine serum, and now, that is a plant or algae-based liquid medium.”
Cells are put in a bioreactor, where they replicate upon themselves, explains Beck.
“Again, this technology is rapidly evolving,” she says. “We can expect the first product onto the market to be a chicken nugget. I’m sure the first beef-like products will be a meat crumble or meatball, but I’m sure they will also eventually be able to produce muscle-like cuts.”
Larger scale production is forecasted by 2019, according to industry participants, and Beck says, “The regulatory framework is the biggest thing holding this up so far.”
Beck spoke during the 2019 Cattle Industry Convention in New Orleans, La. on Jan. 30.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.