Already bearing the brunt of global trade retaliation against American agriculture, U.S. pork producers now face additional headwinds in the form of a regulatory land grab by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The National Pork Producers Council today called on the USDA to assert its proper oversight of two emerging issues critical to the future of animal agriculture: laboratory-produced cultured protein and gene editing in livestock production.
Alternative proteins want it both ways
Alternative proteins include those that are plant-based as well as cultured products grown in a lab. The FDA today hosts a public hearing to address regulatory oversight of cultured products that are engineered in a lab to look, smell and taste like real meat. While the viability, production practices and environmental impact of these products are shrouded in secrecy, the misleading marketing plans of the companies producing such products are clear, with animal imagery and terms such as “clean meat” and “prime beef” used in their packaging prototypes.
NPPC urges the Trump administration to establish a level playing field by establishing regulatory authority over laboratory-produced cultured protein products with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, where they will be required to comply with the same regulatory standards, including continuous inspection, process controls, antemortem and postmortem inspection of source animals and other requirements, as conventionally produced red meat and poultry products.
“While we know very little about the production methods of laboratory-produced cultured products, alternative protein companies are clearly working to present their products as real meat while seeking FDA oversight that would allow them to avoid rigorous inspection, labelling scrutiny and other regulations faced by livestock agriculture,” says NPPC President Jim Heimerl, a pork producer from Johnstown, Ohio. “These companies — and their unsubstantiated claims about the sustainability, safety and ethics of their products — must be accountable to the same group that regulates the real meat they are striving to mimic.”
Luddite-like FDA oversight won’t unlock gene editing potential
Gene editing holds tremendous food safety and animal health and welfare promise for U.S. pork. It is an emerging innovation that allows for simple changes to be made within a pig’s native genetic structure without introducing genes from other species. Gene editing simply accelerates genetic improvements that could be realized naturally over time through breeding. Emerging applications include the use of gene editing to produce pigs resistant to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, a highly contagious swine disease that causes significant animal suffering and has cost pork producers worldwide billions of dollars.
Despite the lack of any statutory requirement, the FDA currently holds regulatory authority over gene editing in food producing animals. As a result, an animal health breakthrough that will dramatically enhance animal care and food safety and support economic prosperity in rural America faces an impractical, lengthy and expensive approval process that will render it unavailable to American farmers while countries around the world realize its potential. FDA oversight will treat any gene edited animal as a living animal drug — and every farm raising them a drug manufacturing facility — undermining U.S. agricultural competitiveness relative to other countries with more progressive gene editing regulatory policies.
NPPC urges the Trump administration to move regulatory oversight of gene editing in animals from the FDA to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. APHIS, which already regulates gene editing in plants, can ensure a proper, risk-based regulatory review under the Animal Health Protection Act.
“It’s deeply disturbing to U.S. pork producers to see the FDA adopt a Luddite-like regulatory approach that threatens the global competitiveness of U.S. agriculture,” Heimerl says. “Common-sense regulations have helped make U.S. pork the global leader, and we can’t afford to cede such an important innovation to the rest of the world.”