House Appropriators Should Support USDA Regulation of Lab-Grown Protein
This week, the full House Appropriations Committee is
expected to consider the fiscal year 2019 House Agriculture Appropriations bill. Included in the bill is an important provision that would place lab-grown
fake meat products under U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversight. If
you care about the health and welfare of consumers, that’s good news.
NCBA first called for USDA oversight of lab-grown protein
because the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service is the agency best-placed to
ensure these fake meat products are safe and accurately labeled. Chairman
Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and other members of the House Appropriations
Agriculture Subcommittee should be commended for recognizing the benefits of
USDA oversight for consumers, and taking a positive first step in that
direction. After all, the idea that manufacturers of lab-grown protein need to
abide by the highest food safety and marketing standards should hardly be
Unfortunately, that did not stop some from criticizing
the move. The Good Food Institute – a leading promoter of fake meat
products – tried to paint the USDA regulatory oversight provision as a
heavy-handed attack on small businesses. It is a clever tactic, but the
rhetoric does not match reality.
There is no doubt that USDA’s exacting standards impose
regulatory burdens on food producers. However, if fake meat companies would
like the privilege of selling their products to the American public in a fair
and competitive marketplace, they should be happy to follow the same rules as
everyone else. Consumers expect and deserve nothing less.
Another group, the Center for Science in the Public
Interest, alleged that the USDA oversight provision was premature and the
regulatory framework for lab-grown protein needs more study. Given the novelty
of these products, further study of the regulatory options and increased
coordination between USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is
certainly warranted. But Congress does not need to be at a standstill while
this takes place.
It is important to remember that a directive from Congress
giving USDA primary oversight of lab-grown protein would be the beginning of
the regulatory process, not the end. Like all federal agencies, USDA would be
responsible for turning broad statutory language into specific regulations
through an extensive, public rulemaking process. This would apply to both the
food safety inspection process (where certain areas of responsibility could be
shared with FDA) and the labeling of lab-grown fake meat products.
Questions about the regulatory framework for lab-grown
protein are far from settled, but the House Appropriations Agriculture
Subcommittee made the right move by supporting USDA oversight. Now it is time
for the full committee to follow suit.