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The nation's food inspectors Thursday rolled out solidified plans to jointly oversee the production of food derived from animal meat cells.

The announcement is similar to a rough outline pitched in the fall by both regulators -- the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Food and Drug Administration -- to share jurisdiction over different aspects of cell-based food production, which ended the question of who would regulate the products.

"We recognize that our stakeholders want clarity on how we will move forward ... to ensure the safety and proper labeling" of these products, said Frank Yiannas, FDA's deputy commissioner for food policy and response, in remarks to reporters. "Collaboration between USDA and FDA will allow us to draw upon the unique expertise of each agency" and address considerations that arise with the development of these products, Yiannas said.

According to their plans, the FDA will oversee cell collection and growth, at which point the USDA will regulate the harvest and labeling of such products.

"Consumers trust the USDA mark of inspection to ensure safe, wholesome and accurately labeled products," said Mindy Brashears, USDA's deputy undersecretary for food safety, in remarks to reporters. "We look forward to continued collaboration with FDA and our stakeholders to safely regulate these new products and ensure parity in labeling," she said.

Food inspection divisions of both agencies held a public meeting in late October to discuss the use of cell culture technology to develop products made from animal cells.

Travis Justice, chief economist of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, said Thursday's formal agreement is a positive step. Everyone was "kind of operating in the void" beforehand, he said.

At one point, each side wanted separate oversight on cell-based products, so to have a joint agreement "does provide clarity for how these types of products will be handled and processed," Justice said.

"On the surface it's very positive," he said, but as things get settled "we will see if there's any issues."

Now that a joint agreement is set, Justice said the next step is to wait and see what language the USDA proposes for marketing the products.

Thursday's official agreement came after several states, including Arkansas, introduced legislation to guide the labeling of some new protein products over concerns that plant-based and cell-based foods could be confusing to consumers.

Jason Apple, a professor of animal science at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, said the main issue he has with cell-based producers is how they call their lab-grown products "clean-meat." He said "This implies the rest of the meat is dirty."

The agencies working together is encouraging, Apple said.

There's a policy in place that is nearly impossible for either side to work with, but for them to have an "open dialogue" about cell-based meats, he said "I think that's the start of a better, healthier food supply."

Major food producers have alternative protein foods on the market already or have projects underway to enter that market. Tyson Foods has already invested in smaller companies that produce products that fall under this category. The Springdale meatpacker plans to announce a new line of in-house alternative protein products in coming weeks.

Business on 03/08/2019

Print Headline: USDA, FDA plan to jointly keep eye on cell-based foods


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