Not 'fake' meat but 'clean'

Two US agencies agreed to share the oversight of lab-grown meat products, according to new guidelines issued by the US Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture in November. The decision to place the burden squarely on both agencies resulted from a joint meeting in October, after which it was agreed that the FDA will oversee cell culture (collection, banking, growth and differentiation) and the USDA, which has jurisdiction over meat and poultry, will step in for the production and labeling.

The guidance, as far as it goes, has garnered praise from cattlemen and lab-grown meat producers alike. The US Cattlemen's Association called it a “step in the right direction” while the Good Food Institute, which advocates for cell- and plant-based meat substitutes, issued an approving statement. Consensus is that the shared supervision plays to the strengths of each agency, with the FDA's expertise in cell culture technology and the USDA's in food production. Also encouraging to all was the agencies' statement that no new legislation is required.

But the nagging question is how the label should read. Missouri, with a large beef cattle industry, has already stepped into the fray and, absent federal guidance, passed its Missouri Cattleman's Fake Meat Bill, which went into effect in August 2018. The new law prohibits “misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry” and thus bans lab-grown products from using a meat label. Producers of lab-grown meat are pushing back against the “fake meat” label, however. Several manufacturers of 'clean meat', as they prefer to call it, have filed suits to block implementation of the law based on first amendment commercial speech grounds.

This issue is urgent, as at least one company, San Francisco-based Just, was expecting to start selling cultured meat at the end of 2018.

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DeFrancesco, L. Not 'fake' meat but 'clean'. Nat Biotechnol 37, 9 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt0119-9b

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