ARTICLE

Cell-based Meat Startups Launch Regulatory Coalition

Last week, several cellular agriculture companies announced that they formed a coalition to advocate for the future of food with cellular agriculture. The Alliance for Meat, Poultry and Seafood Innovation (AMPS Innovation) was founded by 5 cell-based meat startups focusing on a range of products: BlueNalu, Finless Foods, Just, Fork & Goode, and Memphis Meats. BlueNalu and Finless Foods focus on cell-based seafood and Just, Fork & Goode, and Memphis Meats focus on producing cell-based poultry and meat.

Cell-based chicken nugget by Just

According to their press release, AMPS Innovation’s goal is to advocate for a clear regulatory pathway to market for their products as well as to engage and educate consumers and stakeholders about their new industry.

Regulation and Cell-Based Meat: A Brief History

It’s positive to see cell-based meat startups working together to take an active role in the field’s regulatory discussions. Government regulation has been a major obstacle for cellular agriculture, especially cell-based meat, and it’s positive to see several cell-based meat companies form a coalition to address the regulatory hurdles ahead for the entire field.

Traditionally, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates and oversees animal products like meat, milk, and eggs. But what if those animal products are coming from cell cultures, a field that the Food and Drug Agency (FDA) would have oversight over?

Since the start of 2018, this regulatory question has led to a regulatory turf war between the USDA and FDA to no avail. That changed last August.

In August 2018, Memphis Meats and the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) sent a joint letter to the White House to propose a regulatory pathway forward for cell-cultured meat in which both the USDA and FDA would regulate cell-based meats. This was the first time a cell ag company and a meat industry player came together to support a regulatory pathway that could appeal to both sides. And it seemed to work.

Cell-based meatball by Memphis Meats

In October 2018, the USDA and FDA announced that they will work together and jointly regulate meat produced via cellular agriculture. And in March 2019, the USDA and FDA announced a basic framework of regulating of cell-based meats, putting into writing what was previously agreed.

This will be the first instance where both agencies are in charge of regulating a field of products. According to the framework, the FDA will oversee initial steps and regulate the collection and growth of cultured cells. Once the cells are ready to become meat (the harvest stage), the USDA will take charge and regulate the meat production and harvesting steps. Including how the products will be labelled.

Now, with the framework established, AMPS Innovation plans to engage with policymakers at the USDA, FDA, and Congress to continue to establish a regulatory structure for cell-based meat.

Beyond beef and chicken meat, there are still questions about how regulation would look like for other cellular agriculture food products, like cell-based fish and seafood. Currently, fish meat is regulated by the FDA (except catfish). Will cell-based seafood startups be required to follow a similar pathway to other cell-based meats even if the USDA is not currently involved in the traditional regulatory pathway?

Cell-based carp cakes by Finless Foods. how will cell-based seafood by regulated in the US?

The Labeling Question

Labeling has been another major point of contention for cellular agriculture companies. Groups like the United States Cattlemen’s Association, for example, have petitioned the USDA to redefine the word meat to exclude any product produced via cellular agriculture. States like Missouri have already passed laws that ban plant-based and cellular agriculture products from using the word meat.

According to the basic regulatory framework, the USDA will have the final words regarding the labeling of the final cell-cultured meat products. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) will claim this as a win, as they have always pushed that the USDA should be in charge of meat labeling.

It is important to note, however, that the document mentions that both the FDA and USDA “will develop joint principles for product labeling and claims to ensure that products are labeled consistently and transparently”.

This means that, even though the USDA will be the department labeling the final products, it will be based on previously agreed terms with the FDA. If the FDA has a role in labeling, then it’s likely that the joint USDA and FDA consensus will be able to label cell ag meat products meat.

AMPS Innovation will likely work with both agencies to help establish a suitable name for both cellular agriculture companies and the conventional meat producers. In fact, the phrase cell-based meat was first used in the joint letter from Memphis Meats and NAMI proposing a regulatory pathway forward. According to Memphis Meats, the name cell-based meat will garner more cooperation from the conventional meat industry and US meat regulators to overcome some of the obstacles ahead for cell ag. Since then, other cell ag startups announced that they will start using the term too.

Conclusion

Overall, there are many positives from the formation of AMPS Innovation. Beyond signifying that the field is ready to work and cooperate with regulators and policymakers, the formation of the coalition suggests that cell-based meat products may be close to coming to market (otherwise, why establish a coalition now?).

Beyond regulation, scaling production to be commercially viable has been a major obstacle for taking production from lab to market. The formation of the coalition suggests that some of the startups may have found ways to address their scaling needs and are looking for the next steps to bring their product to market.

It’s interesting in the AMPS Innovation press release that Memphis Meats is also working on developing cell-based seafood. Memphis Meats was the first cellular agriculture company to make the cell-cultured meatball and poultry (both chicken and duck). What products will we see first on the market?