Editor’s Plate: U.S. Will Lead on Cultured Meats

Oct. 19, 2021
There’s been more government activity and involvement than is apparent.

We were first on the moon, developed the first computer, built the first skyscraper. But I was worried the U.S. was lagging Singapore, Israel and maybe Japan in directing the development of a technological breakthrough that has the potential to restructure half of the world’s agriculture (where the U.S. also leads).

I’m talking about cultured meats. But after prodding a few of the American leaders in this technology and their association, I’ve been assured there’s more going on behind the scenes than even people in the food industry realize, and that, indeed, the U.S. will be a key player in how this game-changing market develops. Despite the fact that they’re already eating cultured meat in Singapore.

Maybe we can’t lay claim to the first petri dish full of hamburger (that honor goes to professor Mark Post at a university in Netherlands), but the concept apparently was thought up, or at least popularized, by American Jason Gaverick Matheny, who co-authored a paper on cultured meat production in the early 2000s (he currently is a national security and technology advisor to President Biden).

In an earlier story on the subject, I quoted from a 1931 Winston Churchill book where he predicted this technology: “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”

The U.S. produces the most beef in the world, besting No. 2 Brazil by a good 2 million tons. And it’s a huge export product. If cultured meat has the potential to replace some, maybe even a good chunk, of that, I expected to see more activity from FDA and USDA. What sent me off on this topic is USDA’s September notice that its Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is soliciting comments on the labeling (only) of cultured meat and poultry products. FSIS will use these comments to shape future regulatory requirements for the labeling of such food products.

That comes after more than two years of silence on the topic – which I interpreted as inactivity. But apparently there’s been a lot of government involvement behind the scenes in the technology, at least enough to satisfy the American companies involved.

“[We] do feel that the U.S. government is moving forward appropriately as it pertains to the regulation of cell-cultured meat, poultry and seafood,” said a spokesperson for AMPS Innovation, the coalition of eight U.S.-based lab-grown meat, poultry and seafood companies. AMPS Innovation, by the way, stands for Alliance for Meat, Poultry and Seafood Innovation.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration have demonstrated admirable interagency partnership and coordination in their approach to regulating cell-cultured meat, poultry and seafood,” she continued, “and as a result AMPS Innovation member companies are confident that the U.S. is on the right path to be a global leader when it comes to our industry.”

Eric Jenkusky, CEO of Matrix Meats, adds: “The U.S. government is definitely making an effort to nurture the development of cultivated products through NSF funding. Two great examples of this are the approximately $3.5 million that was awarded to UC Davis to focus on convergent research that encompasses the science, engineering, economics, sustainability and consumer acceptance of cultivated meat production. As well as the very recent award to the Kaplan lab at Tufts [University] as part of the Industry-University Collaborative Research Center (IUCRC) program to explore setting up a research center dedicated to cellular agriculture and cultured meat.

“We are also lucky that we have the Good Food Institute located in the U.S. along with a multitude of the top cell-ag companies, so we don’t need the government to shepherd, but rather nurture through funding complicated problems, removing roadblocks (which will be tested by how the recent request for comments by the USDA/FSIS’s is handled) and the promotion of collaboration and transparency.”

Among the hands-off approach of the last presidential administration, the changing of the guard in Washington and the pandemic, the past couple of years haven’t been good ones to move the country’s regulatory engine forward. But moving forward it is, and we can expect to see the fruits of that activity in the coming months.

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