Regulators Propose Oversight for Lab-Grown Meat


Food regulators recently announced their oversight plan for the production of lab-grown meat.

Last month, two federal agencies — the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) — said they will jointly oversee the production, preparation, and distribution of “meat” grown by scientists using animal cells.

According to its announcement, the FDA will manage most of the product’s life in the laboratory. During the “cell harvesting stage,” however, regulatory duties will transfer to the USDA, who will oversee the rest of production and labeling.

Regulatory guidelines pave the way for lab-grown meat’s appearance in the market, although the timeline for its actual arrival in grocery stores remains unclear. Meat-growers, such as “food technology” startup Memphis Meats of San Francisco, are still working out ways to make the practice profitable.

Some traditional meat companies are taking steps to protect their businesses should lab-grown beef threaten to put them out to pasture. Tyson Ventures, an investment arm of the U.S.’s largest meat processor, has invested in several companies working on “alternative proteins.” A Tyson executive said the company is “willing to participate [its] our own disruption.”

Proponents of lab-grown meat laud its potential benefits to the environment and its alleged ethical superiority. Reflecting their enthusiasm for it, some groups refer to it as “meat 2.0” or “clean meat.”

Denizens of the traditional meat industry have a beef with that name, however. If chicken fingers grown with cell cultures are “clean,” is the regular kind dirty?

To hash out the name problem, federal regulators met this summer with food scientists, cattle ranchers, and representatives from other organizations with skin in the meat game (so to speak). Meeting participants mulled over ideas such as “in vitro meat,” “artificial meat,” “craft meat,” “cultured meat,” and “cultured tissue.” Generally, the geniality of each suggestion varied relative to the interests of each [steak]holder.

The FDA and USDA’s November announcement indicates they finally settled on “cell-cultured food products.” Who’s hungry?

While the technology that makes lab-grown meat possible is new, the idea is old. Its past advocates include, of all people, Sir Winston Churchill. The British Bulldog predicted in 1932 that, “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”

Mr. Churchill would be happy to know, undoubtedly, that this future may soon be present.


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