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Should USDA Regulate Lab-Grown Meat?


The USDA acts as a lobbyist for the livestock lobby. It has long prioritized supporting the agricultural industry over the public’s nutritional health. For example, the USDA has expanded the dairy market in opposition to science supporting the negative health effects of dairy consumption.

VICTORIA HAWEKOTTE: When it comes to the regulation of lab-grown meat, there may be too many cooks in the kitchen. A battle between two federal agencies that both claimed sole authority to regulate cell-cultured meat ended in 2018 as a plan for these agencies to regulate these products jointly. But is this plan the right path forward for the regulation of cultivated meat?

In a recent article, Tammi S. Etheridge of Howard University School of Law argues that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is well equipped to regulate lab-grown or cell-cultured meat independently, and that the 2018 plan issued by FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for joint regulation is both unnecessary and inappropriate.

For example, as of November 16, 2022, FDA had Under joint regulation, the producer must now jump through the additional hurdle of seeking USDA approval.

Etheridge first lays out the process of creating cell-cultured meat that FDA and USDA proposed in their joint plan. According to that plan’s first step, scientists would sample tissue from a live cow, extract stem cells from that sample, and place them into a culture of nutrients and hormones. Sampling would occur in an FDA-regulated laboratory, where stem cells could grow into fibers, eventually forming a muscle.

FDA would then oversee cell collection and growth, but would have to report whether harvested cells were suitable for processing into meat to USDA. USDA then would control production, the pre-approval process for meat labeling, and the content of the labels. USDA would also inspect the place where processing happens to ensure proper labeling and safe conditions.

Despite this planned regulatory framework, Etheridge argues that USDA is an inappropriate regulator for cell-cultured meat due to what she sees as its pro-industry bias, lack of applicable expertise, and lack of jurisdiction.

USDA is tasked with maximizing the agricultural industry’s profit and minimizing its losses, according to Etheridge. At the same time, the department also seeks to improve nutritional health. But Etheridge suggests that USDA has long prioritized supporting the agricultural industry over the public’s nutritional health. Etheridge goes one step further, stating that USDA acts as a lobbyist for the livestock lobby.

USDA has expanded the dairy market, for example, in opposition to science supporting that dairy consumption has negative health effects, according to Etheridge. She worries that the same industry support which expanded the dairy market could affect USDA’s regulation by biasing product labeling in favor of industry that could advocate stringent labeling rules that hinder market success for cell-cultured meat producers…

Ultimately, Etheridge argues that FDA has preexisting regulatory processes for other processed foods and drugs that are much more similar to those required for cell-cultured meat than are USDA’s animal-based processes…

FDA should never have relinquished any oversight authority to USDA, Etheridge concludes. To solve the issue of joint regulation, Etheridge urges either USDA to return authority back to FDA or Congress to grant FDA sole authority over regulating any and all cellular agricultural products. She doing so could ensure that agencies regulating cellular meats allow society to reap the benefits of this new innovation and act in the interest of the people, not the industry. SOURCE…