'We can accommodate clean meat within the existing regulatory framework...'

Approving cattlemen’s petition would have a “chilling” effect on food innovation, says Memphis Meats

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Approving cattlemen’s petition would have a “chilling” effect on food innovation, says Memphis Meats

Related tags Clean meat cultured meat

Attempts by the US Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) to restrict use of the terms ‘beef’ and ‘meat’ to products from animals ‘born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner,’ would have a “chilling” effect on innovation “at a time when the global need for protein-based foods is on an exponential rise,” argues clean meat start-up Memphis Meats.

While no cultured meat products are on the market yet, a handful of players from Mosameat​ in the Netherlands, Future Meat Technologies​ and SuperMeat​ in Israel, Memphis Meats,​ Finless Foods​ ​and Just Inc​ in the US, and Integriculture​ in Japan are looking to introduce them over the next five years, prompting some lawmakers to question whether a new regulatory framework is required.

Culturing animal cells to make meat might be a novel approach to food production, Memphis Meats CEO and co-founder Uma Valeti MD told FoodNavigator-USA, but the resulting products are “compositionally and nutritionally substantially equivalent to existing meat products on the market,”​ meaning existing regulatory frameworks can accommodate them.

The fact that they have been produced via a novel process​ is not relevant from a safety or labeling perspective, added Dr Valeti, who stressed that clean meat producers would make it crystal clear on pack that animals were not raised or slaughtered in the production of the ‘meat’ or ‘beef’ in question.

 “To say let’s freeze innovation at this point in time is untenable and not in the interests of consumers… that would be a huge departure​ [from longstanding policy]. This would stifle innovation in products that have the potential to address many challenges posed by our global population and provide new options for consumers for protein-based products.”

(Read more from Dr Valeti about the go-to-market strategy HERE​.)

Production methods have varied considerably over time

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after filing comments with USDA urging it to reject the USCA’s recent petition​, Dr Valeti said that cultured meat is derived from the cells of animals already defined in federal statutes, meets the definitions of meat products already enshrined in regulations and standards, and on a more practical level, “looks like meat, cooks like meat and tastes like meat​.

 “We’re not asking for new rulemaking, we’re saying we can accommodate clean meat within the existing regulatory framework​,” added Dr Valeti, who noted that the FDA does not require special labeling for meat from cloned animals, for example.

While FSIS does not define beef or beef products in regulations, cultured meat products meet all the definitions of numerous beef products in its food standards and labeling policy book, said Dr Valeti, notably that meat is derived from certain species of animal, from a certain part of that animal; and is non-living upon consumption.

“The only difference between clean/cultured meat products and conventional products is the process by which the animal parts are grown and harvested…. There is no discussion, let alone requirement, in any applicable statute or regulation that mandates ‘the traditional manner’ of meat or poultry production. Indeed, production methods have varied considerably over time.”

Asked whether clean meat products that Memphis Meats is developing will match the ratios of muscle, fat, and connective tissue in meat products from animals harvested in the traditional manner, he said: “In general, the guidelines will say that this ​[meat product] should have this percentage or lower in fat, for example, and the clean meat products that initially come on the market will match those guidelines.”

We are meat

Speaking at the recent American Conference Institute (ACI) food law conference​ in Chicago, Eric Schulze, PhD, VP of product and regulation at Memphis Meats, added: “We have technologies that enable us to analyze our meat tissue and compare it to conventional products, and at the simplest level, we are genetically meat, we take the cells from an animal.

“So from that standpoint, we are meat," ​added Dr Schulze, who spent five years at the FDA as part of a team tasked with evaluating genetically engineered animals and novel biotechnology before joining Memphis Meats in 2016.

Attorney: Clean meat cos are deriving animal cells from the same species of animals that are already identified as meat and poultry in federal statutes

His comments were echoed by fellow speaker and Sidley Austin LLP attorney Deepti Kulkarni, who said that when it comes to food safety, regulators should focus on the novelty or otherwise of the end product, not the process.

“When you look at this technology, it is deriving animal cells from the same species of animals that are already identified as meat and poultry in federal statutes and just growing them in a different way, so we hope that regulators will adapt to this and other new technologies in a way that is risk-based rather than process-based."

Science does not occur in a cultural vacuum

That said, noted Dr Schulze, it’s in the interests of all players in this emerging market to engage with as many stakeholders as possible and move in a considered fashion: “What’s really important to me is that science does not occur in a cultural vacuum. We don’t know everything and we’re going to take our time​.”

Asked whether he anticipated that firms in the space might put together GRAS determinations for their clean meat products, Dr Schulze told FoodNavigator-USA: “If it’s required of us, sure absolutely, but I don’t think that anything has been deemed as certain.​”

Valeti added: “We’ve started to have conversations with the FDA and USDA and this​ [USCA] petition has accelerated that process. We are going to do more than the bare minimum and we are definitely considering putting together a package that would show that we meet the food safety requirements, so that’s on the radar.”  

Attorney: USCA petition would stifle innovation, raise First Amendment issues

USDA has two regulatory definitions of ‘meat,’ one for purposes of labeling, and another for purposes of inspections, which are geared toward slaughtered animals. However, it co-ordinates with the FDA where appropriate to determine responsibility for specific food products.

As animals are not being slaughtered, you likely wouldn’t need an FSIS inspector in a clean meat production facility, said Kulkarni.

As for labeling, were USDA to approve the USCA petition,​ this would raise first amendment issues and stifle innovation by effectively favoring one method of production over another, she argued (read more about this HERE​).

FDA: ‘It seems reasonable to think that cultured meat could be consumed safely’

The FDA is not commenting on labeling, but told FoodNavigator-USA that it was “committed to supporting innovation in the food supply,”​ ​and encouraged manufacturers to “engage with us to address any questions they may have.”​

A spokesperson added: “Given information we have at this time, it seems reasonable to think that cultured meat, if manufactured in accordance with appropriate safety standards and all relevant regulations, could be consumed safely.”​

Comments on USCA petition


Cultured-Beef-Dr Mark Post-cropped
Picture: MosaMeat

Below is a selection of comments on the US Cattlemen's petition​. Click HERE​ to view all of the comments.

"Please keep the terms 'beef' and 'meat' to mean products born raised and harvested from living animals, not something derived from plant material or a petri dish." Daniel Maher

“Please keep beef out of the laboratory and on range land as was intended.” George E Weaver

Food-type materials produced in a laboratory are new products, and should carry a new nomenclature. Anything else is deception.” Thomas Hammett

“While some groups may oppose livestock production methods or claim various health impacts from meat consumption, it is important those agendas do not interfere with the consumer’s ultimate right to make their own informed decision about those issues. For alternative products to hide under traditionally understood terms would be a great injustice to honest labeling.” Allan Sents

USDA is authorized only to regulate meat labels to protect the health and welfare of consumers, not to prop up an industry or favor one production method over another.” The Good Food Institute (in a comment signed byTofurky, Lightlife Foods, Field Roast Grain Meat Co, Impossible Foods, Finless Foods, Sweet Earth Foods, and Hungry Planet).

“There is no reason why anything other than a slaughtered animal can't be called ‘meat.’ The fact that the meat industry believes that plant based meat substitutes will confuse the consumer just goes to show that the animal agriculture industries think their primary consumers are morons.” Brian Karakas

“I believe consumers will have no trouble distinguishing between traditional meat products and the various alternatives as long as descriptive words are added to clarify the origins of the product.” Chris Edwards

“Non-beef products which use the term ‘beef' in the product name are very likely to cause customer confusion… the definition of ‘meat’ should be limited to the tissue or flesh of animals that have been harvested in the traditional manner. Food products derived from alternative sources such as a synthetic product from plant, insects, or other non-animal components and any product grown in labs from animal cells should not be labeled as ‘meat.’ These products need to create their own identity…” Dwight Keller, ​The Independent Beef Association of North Dakota

“I do not want GMOs, fake meat or farmed fish in our food system.” Lynn Martin

"The food industry has gone so far off track with these ideas that I can't make sense of any of it. I don't support GMOs or farmed fish, and I hope this stuff is clearly labeled so consumers will know exactly what they're buying! Then again, the Dark Act prevented us from knowing what's inside our food, so it wouldn't surprise me if the veil of darkness falls upon fake meat now too. It's insanity to me."Anonymous

“If you permit the word ‘meat’ to be used only for tissue from the flesh of animals harvested in the traditional way, you will create a monopoly for animal farmers. You will stifle competition. This is exactly why this petition is before you--animal farmers are scared of competition. However competition is what capitalism is all about. Competition is good for consumers and good for the economy because competition provides incentives to develop new products and advance technology. As an economist, I oppose anything that stifles competition. You should too.” Gabriella Bucci

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