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The fight over cultured meat is heating up, and Big Meat is demanding that Trump intervene

The fight over cultured meat is heating up, and Big Meat is demanding that Trump intervene

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Reuters/Lisa Hornak
  • While companies race to turn animal cells into restaurant-grade burgers that eschew the environmental and ethical baggage of traditional meat, a battle is brewing over who gets to police them.
  • On one side is the the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has the bulk of participation from most of the leading Silicon Valley startups in the space.
  • On the other is the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is represented by the majority of traditional American meat producers, such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
  • Now, the old guard of meat makers is going directly to President Trump to ask that the USDA – and not the FDA – is the one to oversee cultured meat.

The fight among startups to create the first slaughter-free meat needs a referee – badly.

While companies around the world race to turn animal cells into restaurant-grade products that eschew the environmental and ethical baggage of traditional meat, a battle is brewing over who gets to police them.

On one side is the the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has the bulk of participation from most of the leading Silicon Valley startups in the space. On the other is the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is represented by the majority of traditional American meat producers, such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Of the two agencies who could regulate the brave new world of cultured meat, the FDA appeared – at least at first – to be leading the charge. Earlier this month, it hosted the first cultured meat meeting to start the discussion on the subject. A handful of leading startups and scientific groups in the space attended.

Notably, the USDA was not invited, despite asking to be included in a letter sent to the White House budget office the day before the meeting.

burger war

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Shutterstock

Now, the old guard of meat makers is going directly to President Trump to ask that the USDA – and not the FDA – is appointed to be the agency that oversees cultured meat.

In a letter sent to Trump on Thursday, groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, and National Turkey Federation wrote that the USDA is “uniquely equipped” to ensure that cultured meat products are labeled, tested, and marketed “in a manner that provides a level playing field in the marketplace.”

After calling out the FDA meeting as a “power grab,” they said cultured meat producers should be subject to the same regulatory rules as they are – rules that currently come from the USDA.

“If cell-cultured protein companies want the privilege of marketing their products as meat … they should be happy to follow the same rules as everyone else,” the letter read.

But cultured meat startups and nonprofit groups who support their work say the FDA should be the ones in charge, citing the fact that traditional meat regulators wouldn’t have a great deal of expertise in overseeing their products.

“My favorite question,” Matt Ball, a senior media relations specialist with the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that promotes the development of cultured meat, told Business Insider, “What would a USDA inspector do? Stand there and stare at a clean meat cultivator?”

A battle is brewing over the future of meat, and it could mean the US fumbles on a revolutionary new market

A battle is brewing over the future of meat, and it could mean the US fumbles on a revolutionary new market

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Shutterstock
  • The race among startups to create the first meat without slaughter needs a referee – and right now, there’s a battle raging over who it will be.
  • In a letter sent Wednesday to the White House budget office, congressmembers said they were upset and disappointed that the USDA was not included in an FDA public meeting to discuss cultured meat.
  • The controversy could prove too inconvenient for startups working on cultured (or “clean”) meat. Some have suggested they might take their products to other countries instead.

The race among startups to create the first meat without slaughter needs a referee – and right now, there’s a battle raging over who it will be.

Clean or cultured meat, which is made using animal cells instead of the flesh of slaughtered animals, could decrease waste, lessen the environmental footprint of meat production, and provide a more ethical way to eat meat. While a number of startups are working on creating the first clean meat products, none has yet succeeded in bringing one to market. The technology is early and the products are still too expensive to create something that’s viable for retail.

Two main federal agencies oversee the world of meat production: the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But it’s unclear which one has jurisdiction of clean or cultured meat, which is continuing to inch closer to our plates.

That could prove to be inconvenient for startups, who may take their products to other countries instead of wading into a federal turf war here in the US. The governments of Israel and Japan, for example, have each recently announced investments in startups working on clean meat and fish.

The battle began earlier this month when, shortly after the FDA announced it was planning to hold a public meeting on the topic of cultured meat, the White House Domestic Policy Council asked members of both the USDA and the FDA to sit down and discuss it.

steak

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Shutterstock

After that meeting, the USDA expected to be invited to the FDA’s public cultured meat meeting (or have the event called off), according to a letter sent Wednesday to the White House budget office by members of two congressional groups overseeing topics related to the USDA and FDA. But that’s not what happened, the authors of the letter wrote.

“Our expectation was that the White House meeting would direct USDA and FDA to coordinate on this issue, including the July 12 meeting. However, that was not the result based upon FDA’s published agenda,” the letter said.

It’s unclear what will happen next.

The USDA clearly wants a more prominent seat at the table and a more direct role in the work the FDA is doing on cultured meat.

“While we appreciate the FDA’s interest in overseeing aspects of the regulation of these innovative products, the US Department of Agriculture also has an obvious role in ensuring their safety and accurate labeling,” the authors of the letter wrote, adding that they felt that the USDA “should be included in the meeting Thursday,” but “if that is not possible … there should be a follow up meeting with both agencies as equal participants.”

Thursday’s meeting agenda did not include any participation from the USDA.

It did, however, include presentations from several startups working in the space, including two San Francisco-based startups: Just (formerly Hampton Creek), which is known for its vegan mayo and egg scramble and claims to be near finalizing a turkey or chicken-based cultured meat product, and Finless Foods, which is creating fish meat from fish cells.

“We believe we can produce meat that is infinitely more efficient than conventional approaches with a fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions and water use,” Peter Licari, Just’s Chief Technology Officer, said during a presentation at the meeting. “Despite the challenges ahead … that’s where we’re headed.”

The USDA and FDA appear to agree. Now they just need to figure out how to oversee it.

“Both agencies should be working collaboratively on a scientific approach towards a framework to regulate these products,” the letter read.

After a $66 billion merger, Monsanto is disappearing — sort of

After a $66 billion merger, Monsanto is disappearing — sort of

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Jim Young/Reuters
  • The German drugmaker and chemical company Bayer has finalized a $66 billion blockbuster deal to gobble up the agricultural behemoth Monsanto.
  • On Monday, Bayer said it would drop Monsanto’s 117-year-old title.
  • The name drop appears to be part of a strategic move geared at distancing the colossal new company from negative publicity surrounding Monsanto and genetically modified organisms.

The German drugmaker and chemical company Bayer has finalized a $66 billion blockbuster deal to gobble up the agricultural giant Monsanto.

In a statement on Monday, Bayer said it planned to drop Monsanto’s 117-year-old title and would henceforth be known only as Bayer.

“Bayer will remain the company name. Monsanto will no longer be a company name,” the company said. “The acquired products will retain their brand names and become part of the Bayer portfolio.”

The name drop appears to be part of a strategic move geared at distancing the new behemoth from negative publicity surrounding Monsanto and genetically modified organisms.

First announced in September 2016 as part of a move designed to boost agricultural research and innovation, the merger is the largest acquisition in Bayer’s history and doubles the size of its farm business.

Distancing itself from the Monsanto label

FILE PHOTO: Monsanto's research farm is pictured near Carman, Manitoba, Canada on August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Zachary Prong/File Photo

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Thomson Reuters

You can’t utter the name Monsanto in public and not be met with at least one stink eye.

For decades, the company has been met with public outrage and disgust linked to its history of controversial dealings with farmers and its standout role in popularizing GMOs. This spring, Monsanto landed a spot on a well-known list of the 20 most hated companies in America.

The decision to drop the Monsanto moniker, then, is no huge surprise.

On a call with reporters on Monday, Liam Condon, the head of Bayer’s crop-science division, said Monsanto had “actually itself considered changing its name” at one time, but elected “not to do that, apparently for cost reasons.”

Still, Condon said, “it was an issue for some time for Monsanto management … to try to improve the Monsanto brand.”

“We’re extremely proud of all we’ve accomplished as Monsanto and are eager to continue to accelerate innovation in agriculture as we look forward to a future under Bayer,” Christi Dixon, Monsanto’s public-relations lead, said in a statement to Business Insider. She added that in the interim, while Monsanto operates independently of Bayer, “it will be business as usual for us, including our company name.”

Monsanto is also moving to invest more deeply in advanced tools for gene editing, a process that can be capitalized on for agricultural purposes to make cheaper but higher-quality produce. Many companies are moving away from tweaking crops’ DNA with GMOs and other crude methods of genetic modification in favor of more precise techniques like Crispr.

In March, Monsanto put $125 million behind the gene-editing startup Pairwise, a company whose founder, Haven Baker, told Business Insider he aimed to bring the first fruit tweaked with Crispr to grocery-store shelves – a development he expects in five to 10 years. Tom Adams, who was Monsanto’s vice president of global biotechnology, left to become the CEO of Pairwise this spring.

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