Controversy about regulatory control of lab-grown meat has made the US agriculture industry and consumer groups anxious.
This surfaced at a recent US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) open meeting for public comment on cell-based technology.
FDA Commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb advocated for continued regulatory oversight of a rapidly-developing cell-based meat food sector.
He highlighted the FDA’s prior experience monitoring cell-cultured medical materials and other innovative products.
Dr Gottlieb said: “Efforts in the private sector to develop food products using cell-cultured technology are fully underway.
“Food products derived from these techniques are likely to reach consumers in the near future.”
Dr Gottlieb said the FDA embraced technological advances in food safety and ’is taking steps to modernise food safety activities in a prevention-oriented framework’.
However, consumer groups and US meat industry officials voiced concerns over the FDA’s continued involvement.
Many believe that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) participation would ensure a level playing field through product label scrutiny not applicable under FDA jurisdiction.
Dr Tiffany Lee, director of regulatory and scientific affairs, North American Meat Institute (NAMI), noted the absence of official USDA involvement at the meeting.
She said: “I am surprised and disappointed that no-one from USDA is on any panel. This meeting should have been held jointly by USDA and FDA.”
Dr Lee said NAMI considered USDA to be better equipped and able to enforce food safety compliance.
On-site USDA meat inspectors monitor production and ensure standards are followed.
Dr Michael Hansen, senior scientist, Consumers Union, further challenged FDA suitability and noted: “There are serious gaps in its [FDA] safety net that lab-grown meat could fall through.”
He said he was opposed to a company being able to ’self-determine’ a food ingredient’s safety under current FDA legislation when applied to cell-cultured meat.
West Coast cell-cultured meat companies at the meeting represented their industry as sustainable and therefore beneficial for both consumers and the environment. They advocated for continued FDA authority.
Dr Eric Shultze, vice-president of product and regulation with Memphis Meats, Berkeley, California, said cell-cultured meat, poultry and seafood currently in development will ’enhance consumer choice and promote increased efficiency’.
Dr Shultze cited FDA’s previous involvement with numerous emerging innovative food products over two decades.
He added: "The FDA has consistently approached these products under a risk and product-based paradigm. We believe the existing framework can be readily applied to cell-cultured meat."
The consultation process remains open until September 25, 2018.