‘Lab meat’ clears hurdle in path to US dinner plates

  • Animal flesh grown in labs moves closer to American mouths after authorities agreed on how to regulate the products
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 November, 2018, 1:06pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 November, 2018, 1:31pm

US authorities on Friday agreed on how to regulate food products cultured from animal cells – paving the way to get so-called lab meat on American plates.

The Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration agreed to share regulation of cell-cultured food products, they said in a joint statement, following a public meeting in October.

While technical details have yet to be confirmed, the FDA would oversee the collection and differentiation of cells – when stem cells develop to specialised cells – while USDA would oversee production and labelling of food products.

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“This regulatory framework will leverage both the FDA’s experience regulating cell-culture technology and living biosystems and the USDA’s expertise in regulating livestock and poultry products for human consumption,” the statement said, adding that the agencies see no need for legislation on the matter.

The question of whether to approve cell-cultured food products has never really come up in the US. Several niche “lab-meat” start-ups already exist but production costs are very high and nobody has a product that is ready to be sold.

Californian company Just, known for its egg-free mayonnaise, has said it plans to sell cell-cultured meat by the end of this year – and it looked forward to working with the agencies.

Others such as Memphis Meats and Mosa Meat, in the Netherlands, are trying to get production costs down with some backing from the agri-food industry.

The backers of “lab meat” argue it avoids slaughtering animals so will reduce suffering and is a sustainable option to feed growing livestock populations hungry for protein.

“American consumers deserve a wide array of healthy, humane, and sustainable choices,” said Jessica Almy, policy director at The Good Food Institute.

But they are locked in disagreement with farming organisations about whether such products can indeed be called “meat”.

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The authorities have made no statement on that – but the US Cattlemen’s Association welcomed the news.

“USDA is going to oversee labelling, which we are ecstatic about because the FDA does not require pre-market label approval … before the products hits the shelves,” said spokeswoman Lia Biondo.