Petition responses point to direction that regulators are going on lab-grown meat labeling

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USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has responded to petition sponsors with differing opinions about how lab-grown “meat” and “beef” should be labeled.

The FSIS Office of Policy and Program Development has denied the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association’s petition asking the agency to “limit the definition of “meat” and “beef” to products derived from animals “born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner.”
The petition from the Cattlemen’s Association has been pending since its submission on Feb. 9, 2018.

“This action would, as the petition notes, effectively prohibit the labels of products made using animal cell culture technology (hereafter, cultured products) or derived from non-animal sources, such as plant-based products, from displaying the term “meat” or “beef.” FSIS said it “received and analyzed over 6,000 public comments” to the petition.

The FSIS and the Food and Drug Administration had a public meeting in October 2018 on labeling cultured food products derived from livestock and poultry tissue. Many comments received at the public meeting supported the Cattlemen’s Association petition.

On Sept. 3 FSIS published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking or ANPR to “help inform the development of labeling requirements for meat and poultry products comprised of or containing cultured cells derived from animals subject to the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) or Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA).”

Consequently, the FSIS said it cannot add new entries to its Policy Book for “meat” and “beef.” Such action is outside its sole jurisdiction and falls upon FDA.

The other petition sponsor is the Animal Law and Policy Program at Harvard University, submitted by letter on June 9, 2020.

Harvard Animal Law requested that FSIS adopt a labeling approach for”cell-based” meat and poultry products. “Specifically, it requests that FSIS establish a labeling approach for cell-based products that do not require new standards of identity,” it said. “And does not ban the use of common or usual meat and poultry terms or other product terms specified in current codified standards of identity.”

The Harvard petition suggests FSIS wait until it has a better understanding of finished cell-based products. It offers that proposed labels be checked unless they “establish speech restrictions that could raise constitutional questions.”

The FSIS responded to Harvard Animal Law as it did to the Cattlemen’s Association by explaining the published ANPR. It said FSIS is “actively expanding its knowledge of cell-based meat and poultry products so it can effectively oversee the safety and labeling of such products.”

Since March 2019, FSIS and FDA have worked jointly to regulate cell-cultured meat and poultry products under a formal agreement. They plan to advance joint labeling principles.

And, in its Sept. 16, 2021, letter to Harvard Animal Law, the FSIS pointed out that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (FAO) last year found that federal regulators still lack information on technology, production methods, and composition of any final cultured-cell products.

FSIS said its “final response” to the Harvard petition that it is publishing it on its website as a “topic of discussion” in the coming rulemaking process.

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