Who’s got the meat? Regulation of new products is a question
Some of you may remember Wendy’s popular advertising campaign – dating back to 1984 – when an elderly lady questioned the hamburger that arrived with a lot of bun and little meat, prompting her to ask: “Where’s the beef?”
Fast forward to today’s marketing environment and you could have a similar campaign asking, “What’s in the beef?” Or “Is it really beef?”
Some beef advocates don’t want to see plant-based or cell-cultured products that may taste and look like meat to be labeled as such. Earlier this year, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association filed a petition, asking USDA to define “meat” and “beef” as animals that have been raised and slaughtered because they said some of the newer products coming on the market could be confusing.
There’s also the question of which federal agency is going to regulate these newer products.
Both USDA and the Food and Drug Administration share responsibility for inspecting products for food safety. In general, USDA inspects meat, poultry and egg products and FDA inspects all other products but sometimes it depends on the level of processing. For example, FDA inspects shelled eggs and USDA inspects products made from eggs such us liquid or frozen eggs.
For months, it’s been especially unclear which agency would regulate cell-based meat, derived from animal cells, but a recent meeting seemed to bring agency leaders together.
In opening comments at a two-day meeting on the subject, Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb drew no lines in the sand and laid no claim to jurisdictional territory. Instead, the two leaders offered a more collaborative approach, and said comments offered during the meeting will help them get there.
“There’s been many cases where we’ve shared jurisdiction around regulation of products. I think this is going to be another one of those cases,” Gottlieb told reporters Tuesday. “Now, we just have to draw out those jurisdictional lines.”
The two agencies will certainly have plenty of comment to sift through as they draw those lines.
The joint regulatory approach was first suggested in a joint letter from Memphis Meats and the North American Meat Institute. In a letter to the administration in August, they suggested FDA be charged with pre-market safety approval, and then oversight can be shifted to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service once that safety is established. Perdue has previously said the two organizations “had it right” and that the joint approach suggested is “what we will work toward.”
Neither Perdue nor Gottlieb jumped at the opportunity to provide a timeline by which USDA and FDA want to have their regulatory structure settled, but Perdue offered sometime next year as an optimistic goal.
“I would think if we can get this done in 2019, I think that would be probably pretty fast for federal purposes,” he said.