Cellular agriculture, best known as “clean meat” for its similarly low impact on the environment as clean tech, is set start making market appearances within the next few years. The meat is produced not from whole animals, but through a cellular sample “fed” nutrients and grown in a process similar to brewing beer. But battles are being waged over whether or not this meat should be regulated like meat from whole animals. Now, the industry has found an unlikely ally in the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), the nation’s oldest and largest meat lobby group.
In a letter sent today to President Trump, NAMI and Bay Area clean meat producer Memphis Meats called for “regulatory clarity” before the products enter the market within the next several years. Whether the FDA or the USDA should have regulatory agency over the sector has been a topic of debate recently; now, the groups say, both agencies play critical roles in bringing this new food to market.
According to the letter, the groups suggested FDA should handle premarket safety testing while USDA could then oversee all phases after, including production and distribution.
Both groups also said “cell-based meat and poultry” would suffice as the proper terminology for the meat, even though it’s most likely to also maintain its “clean meat” moniker in marketing and product packaging in some shape or form.
Like plant-based meat, clean meat is produced with significantly fewer resources than conventionally produced animal protein. It requires far less land, significantly less water, and creates only a fraction of the environmental impact compared to land animals. Clean meat also has a shorter production cycle than raising animals and is essentially void of contaminants such as growth hormones, antibiotics, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The meat industry has already shown interest in the nascent technology; leading beef, pork, and poultry producers Tyson Foods and Cargill have both invested in Memphis Meats (as well as vegan protein producers). Tyson has said it plans to be part of the meat industry “disruption.”
Despite this interest, debates over whether or not clean meat is meat rage on as the meat and dairy industries see declining sales as consumer preferences shift toward more ethically produced options. FDA says it will take a deep dive into the nondairy labeling issue as many cow milk producers say the use of terms such as milk, yogurt, or cheese are misleading consumers. In France and in the state of Missouri, recent legislation bars the use of terms like burger, steak, or chop on meat that comes from plants.
But clean meat, at least for now, has an ally that may help pivot both public perception and industry regulations.
“Cell-based meat products are meat produced from animal cells in cell culture,” the letter to President Trump stated. “They are an ‘and,’ not an ‘or,’ solution, and the latest in a long history of innovation in American agriculture.”