As the regulatory battle over fake meat heats up in Washington, D.C., the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is taking a strong stand for consumers and cattle producers. A few weeks ago, we appealed directly to President Trump, asking him to ensure that lab-grown fake meat products are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It is hardly a radical request. After all, existing federal laws give the USDA authority over all meat and poultry products and byproducts. But the manufacturers of lab-grown fake meat are pushing hard to circumvent the law and have the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate their products instead.
It would be easy to dismiss the USDA-FDA oversight debate as a battle reserved for public policy wonks. Indeed, some within the cattle industry have questioned NCBA’s relentless emphasis on securing USDA oversight. They claim the more important issue is determining how lab-grown fake meat will be labeled and marketed.
Make no mistake: Ensuring the proper labeling of lab-grown fake meat is a top priority for NCBA and our affiliates. (It is also critical that fake meat products are safe for human consumption.) But to achieve the outcome that consumers and producers deserve, the question of regulatory oversight must be settled first.
To understand why, consider the different approaches USDA and FDA take when regulating product labels. At USDA, all product labels must receive approval before they hit the marketplace. A public, transparent process guards against deceptive marketing claims and certifies that labels are based on sound science.
Similar safeguards are not in place at the FDA. Instead of pre-approving labels, the FDA relies on a retroactive enforcement approach. The agency evaluates product labels after they hit store shelves and may take enforcement actions if the labels violate certain standards.
Unfortunately, even when product labels clearly break the law, the FDA has failed to act. Federal regulations clearly define “milk” as coming from a cow. Nonetheless, the FDA has ignored calls to enforce labeling standards on imitation milk products for nearly three decades.
Given the stark differences between USDA and FDA, jumping straight to the definition and labeling of lab-grown fake meat without clarifying the primary regulatory authority is a recipe for disaster. What good is a definition if the agency responsible cannot be trusted to enforce it?
Solidifying USDA’s role as the primary regulatory authority over lab-grown fake meat is not a secondary issue. It is integral to ensuring that lab-grown fake meat is fairly and accurately labeled. Consumers and producers can trust USDA to oversee a transparent labeling process that is based on sound science, not deceptive marketing claims.