Editor’s note: U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, sent the below letter regarding so-called lab meat and other cell-cultured foods to Gene Dodaro, comptroller general of the United States, on March 28.

Dear Mr. Dodaro:

I am writing to request that GAO investigate what regulatory framework, if any, exists for cell-cultured food products and how this framework compares to other international approaches. Cell-cultured food products include lab-grown meat (sometimes referred to as “cultured” or “clean” meat, derived from animal muscle cells) and animal-free milk (such as milk produced from fermented yeast and proteins around in cow’s milk).

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), livestock and poultry account for over half of U.S. agricultural case receipts, often exceeding $125 billion per year. Additionally, the United States is the world’s largest producer of beef and poultry and a top producer and exporter of dairy products. Recent innovations in cell-cultured foods have caught the attention of producers, marketers, and venture capitalists alike. Over the past few years, some of the largest food companies in the United States have started to invest in cell-cultured technologies.

While not yet commercially available, the potential introduction of this new type of product into the nation’s food supply and economy raises many important questions. For example, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association recently filed a petition with the USDA to exclude from the definition of meat any products not derived directly from animals. In addition, at least one dairy group has stated it believes the use of the word “milk” for animal-free products creates confusion in the minds of consumers and thus should be limited only tot products derived from animals. On the other hand, producers of cell-cultured foods argue that the products are safe and more efficiently produced that meat or milk products from live animals.

To date, it remains unclear exactly how cell-cultured food products should be regulated. Agencies within USDA are responsible for ensuring the nation’s domestic and imported commercial supply of meat, poultry, catfish, and egg products is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged, providing scientific research to help ensure that the food supply is safe and secure, and that foods meet foreign and domestic regulatory requirements, among other responsibilities. FDA is responsible for ensuring that all domestic and imported food products, excluding meat, poultry, catfish, and processed egg products, are safe, wholesome, sanitary, and properly labeled. The Federal Trade Commission is responsible for enforcing prohibitions against false advertising for, among other things, food products.

Other countries are also starting to focus on cell-cultured food products. For example, on January 1, 2018, the European Union’s (EU) new framework regulation on “Novel Food” went into effect. The regulation covers foods that, among other things, have not been consumed to a significant degree in the EU before May 15, 1997.

More information is needed for Congress to address this emerging sector in the United States and to ensure it is properly overseen by the relevant agencies once these products are commercially available.

In light of the above, I would like to request conduct a comprehensive review of the following:

  • What unique challenges, if any, exist in overseeing the safety of cell-cultured foods in the United States?
  • What regulatory framework and labeling requirements, if any, exist in the United States to oversee cell-cultured food products, and to what extent, if any, have relevant agencies begun preparing for the commercialization of cell-cultured foods?
  • How do other countries, such as Canada, the European Union, and/or Japan, oversee cell-cultured foods?

If you have any questions regarding this request, please contact Christian Lovell of my staff. Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Rosa L. DeLauro
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives

About the author: Rosa Delauro is the U.S. Representative for Connecticut’s 3rd District, having been elected in 1990. DeLauro Rosa belongs to 62 House caucus groups and is the co-chair of the Baby Caucus, the Long Island Sound Caucus, and the Food Safety Caucus. She is the Ranking Member on the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, where she oversees our nation’s investments in education, health, and employment. Rosa also serves on the subcommittee responsible for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, where she oversees food and drug safety.

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