USDA seeks comments on labeling cell-based meat

Dive Brief:

  • The USDA is seeking comments and information about how to label cell-based meat products. The information collected will help inform the federal government as it develops a comprehensive regulatory framework for the up-and-coming segment.
  • Among questions the USDA wants commenters to answer are whether product names of cell-based meat items need to differentiate them from items that came from animals; which terms would work best for this type of product and which ones would be misleading; how cell-based meat would fit into current standards of identity for meat; how to include cell-based meat products on ingredients lists for finished products; and which physical and nutritional aspects would be most likely to attract consumers to purchase these products.
  • The USDA and FDA formally agreed to jointly regulate products in the cell-based meat space in 2019, but not much has been happening in the public eye to come up with regulations since then. Behind the scenes, there has been more activity — three working groups were formed to hash out details in June 2019, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office published a report on the space and regulatory oversight last May. The FDA, which has sole jurisdiction over cell-based seafood products, issued a similar request for information for that space last October.

Dive Insight:

Most of the news in the cell-based meat space nowadays is coming from companies themselves, touting new plants, new processes and new partnerships. Now that there’s news coming from the federal government, it means one thing: The U.S. is also getting ready for cell-based meat to become a reality to consumers.

The notice, which was available online in the Federal Register on Thursday morning, gives the public 60 days to leave comments on the matter. It poses several specific questions related to how to consider cell-based meat and its derivative products, as well as figuring out where meat made in this way fits in terms of standards of identity.

This rulemaking has been a long time coming, and issues about how to refer to and differentiate cell-based meat have already been debated, discussed and legislated in some states. Several of the forums for discussion have been those set up by the federal government. The FDA and USDA took comments at a July 2018 public hearing on how to regulate cell-based meat, and received more than 6,000 comments on a February 2018 petition from the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association asking the terms “beef” and “meat” be restricted to products from slaughtered animals. The department received a second petition on the issue last June from the Harvard Law School Animal Law & Policy Clinic. This petition asked that any labeling regulations for cell-based meat not ban common terminology for meat and poultry.

Considering that previous comments have been all over the map — some asking for cell-based products to use different terms, some arguing that differentiated labeling should be required, some saying that labeling rules could stifle cell-based industry development and some asking that animal-based meat should also be subject to labeling that states its origin — the ones submitted on this rulemaking are also likely to be extremely diverse in their viewpoints.

However, in the three years since regulating cell-based meat has started to merit serious discussion, a lot has changed in the industry. In 2018, there were many companies working toward prototypes of cell-based meat products, but it seemed more like a futuristic proposition.

Now, Eat Just’s cell-based Good Meat chicken is served in some foodservice establishments in Singapore, and several companies say they are close to having products available to go to market. Meat-Tech 3D is publicly traded on stock exchanges in the U.S. and Israel. Future Meat Technologies says its cell-based chicken breast is close to price parity with that from an animal, has a pilot plant in Israel that is up and running, and is working with Nestlé to explore cell-based meat’s potential. In 2020, $360 million was invested in cell-based meat companies — 72% of all the funds that have ever gone to the space, according to an analysis by the Good Food Institute.

The Alliance for Meat, Poultry & Seafood Innovation — known as AMPS Innovation — is a lobbying and educational group made up of several cell-based meat companies. In a true sign of how the segment has evolved, AMPS Innovation and the North American Meat Institute joined forces last October to ask for this rulemaking to take place. They issued a joint statement Thursday.

“This is an important step in gathering information from the industry and the public to inform a labeling framework that fosters transparency, consumer confidence, and a level-playing field while also aligning with longstanding law and policy,” the statement says.

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