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Our Views Columns

Date: 5/14/2018

Title: 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 controversial.


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.