During a March 29 budget hearing for the US Food and Drug Administration, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf made references to climate change and suggested that the use of biotechnology in food (including cell-cultured meat) was an area of “huge interest” that could help mitigate these issues.
Califf’s comments quickly sparked outrage from the US cattle industry, who accused the commissioner of inappropriately promoting an environmental policy and endorsing cultivated meat products.
“The use of biotechnology in food is a huge area that we’re all interested in”
On Wednesday, Califf testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies. During the hearing, Representative Julia Letlow (R-LA) asked the Commissioner how the agency plans to coordinate with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on pre-market consultation for reviewing cell-cultured chicken products.
In response, Califf stated, “This is a very complicated area…as we look at climate change and supply chain disruptions, the use of biotechnology in food is a huge area that we’re all interested in. There’s no getting around it.”
He added, “We expect to see a lot more applications in this arena, so we’ll all learn as we go along, but I think we have good [regulatory] protocols.”
Beef industry response
Califf’s commentary provoked a strong reaction from US animal agriculture interests, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, who said the FDA is overreaching its authority to regulate cultivated meat products, instead of working more closely with the USDA.
“By his own admission, the FDA’s role is to ensure food safety, but Commissioner Califf’s comments today indicate that he intends to bring his agency into climate and environmental discussions while promoting cell-cultured meat,” said Ethan Lane, NCBA’s Vice President of Government Affairs. “We appreciate Congresswoman Letlow shining a light on these concerning issues at FDA and hope that Commissioner Califf will reverse course and coordinate with the US Department of Agriculture on the regulation of these cell-cultured substitutes.”
According to a 2019 memorandum of understanding, the FDA and USDA have joint jurisdiction over cultivated meat products, with USDA taking the lead on enforcing accurate labeling and food safety.
Despite the livestock industry’s misgivings, Califf’s comments suggest a positive outlook for biotechnology companies seeking to work with the FDA on future regulation of cultivated and fermented food products.
Upon its second premarket approval of cultivated chicken of GOOD Meat last week, the FDA stated it was “ready to work with additional firms that are developing cultured animal cell food” and that it “will issue guidance to assist firms that intend to produce human food made from cultured animal cells.”
The Cattemen’s Association called the statement “highly concerning” and said it further indicated “the FDA’s desire to promote additional cell-cultured meat products.”