Cultured meat, also known as cell-cultured meat, is grown in a lab from a few animal cells. Although the meat produced is technically of animal origin, it does not require the growth or slaughter of living and breathing animals. As such, cell-cultured meat is often touted as a more environmentally friendly and humane alternative to traditional animal meat products. With that said, the fact that consumers expect food labels to be truthful and to include critical information about the origin of their foods, a significant amount of debate has surrounded the issue of how, exactly, these products should be labeled.
To date, cultured beef, chicken, pork, and fish have been created using cell-culture technologies. Because of the variety of products created and the creation method itself, both USDA and FDA could potentially and logically regulate cultured meat, poultry, and seafood products.
As a result, USDA and FDA combined their resources and forged an agreement that defines each agency’s role in regulating cell-cultured products. The agencies have determined that FDA will be responsible for evaluating production processes and materials, as well as ensuring manufacturing controls for tissue collection and culturing. Additionally, FDA will retain full regulatory authority over cultured seafood products. USDA will determine which products are eligible for the USDA mark of inspection, and will conduct inspections at locations producing cultured meats eligible for the mark of inspection.
In addition, at the point of harvest of cultured products subject to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) oversight, regulatory authority will transfer from FDA to FSIS. Although the agencies have not yet issued guidance as to how this joint regulatory authority will be implemented, it’s likely fair to say that cultured meat producers will be expected to comply with both FDA and USDA regulations, and should anticipate inspections and oversight by both agencies throughout various parts of the culturing process.
The increasing chorus of differing laws and legal decisions demonstrates the need for, and will likely compel USDA and FDA to adopt, a single set of new and uniform federal labeling regulations.
Reportedly, at this point, neither agency is expected to release additional complex food safety guidance or regulations for the production of cultured meat products. Rather, it is anticipated, at least in the short term, that the production, storage, and distribution of cultured meat products will be subject to existing USDA and FDA food safety regulations.
Labeling for Cell-Cultured Meat
Once these products have been cultured, however, they will be required to carry appropriate labeling. As a result, both USDA and FDA have issued requests for comments on the labeling of cultured meat products. Neither agency has published proposed rules on the labeling requirements, electing instead to hear from the public, industry, and others in response to a number of specific agency questions directed toward determining how these products should be labeled. These questions are focused primarily around the permissible (or impermissible) use of traditional meat and poultry names or descriptors for products that are, in fact, composed of cultured animal cells. The main focus of both agencies’ efforts in this area has been, and will continue to be, to ensure that consumers are truthfully and adequately informed about the true underlying nature of the products they are buying and consuming.
Notably, because there is not yet a federal regulatory standard for the labeling of cell-cultured meat products, many states have implemented laws that regulate the labeling or naming of cultured meats. Louisiana has implemented a law that generally prevents cultured meat from being represented as meat or a meat product. Similarly, certain Alabama laws prohibit food products made using cultured animal tissue from being labeled as “meat” or a “meat product.” Kentucky, North Dakota, and South Carolina have implemented similar language.