December 2, 2021
Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic and Food Law and Policy Clinic jointly submitted public comments in response to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (USDA-FSIS) Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) on the labeling of meat and poultry products comprised of or containing cultured animal cells (also known as cultivated meat).
Student Liz Turner took the lead in drafting the 18-page comment with support from fellow 2L Asha Ramakumar and Fellows Jan Dutkiewicz and Carney Anne Nasser, under the supervision of Chris Green, Executive Director of the Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School, and Katherine Meyer, the Director of the Animal Law & Policy Clinic.
“By drafting these comments, our students are helping sculpt the future for a sector that has the potential to feed a growing global population in a more sustainable manner while also sparing the suffering of billions of animals. Ensuring even-handed regulation of this evolving food industry with the right to fairly brand its products is key to encouraging innovation and maintaining a level playing field in the consumer marketplace.” said Green.
On September 3, 2021, USDA-FSIS requested public comment on the labeling of cultivated meat and poultry products in formal response to the Animal Law & Policy Clinic’s June 2020 petition for rulemaking on the issue––devoting an entire section of the ANPR published in the federal register to the Clinic’s petition. In that petition, the Clinic urged the agency to adopt a labelling approach for cell-based meat and poultry products that does not overly restrict speech and respects the First Amendment. Earlier, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association similarly submitted a rulemaking petition conversely requesting that “FSIS limit the definition of “meat” and “beef” to products derived from animals born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner.”
Regarding labeling cultivated meat and poultry products, the USDA-FSIS stated it would address the issues raised in both petitions through the ANPR, which solicit public comments and information on fourteen specific questions to “to help inform future rulemaking on the labeling of products made using animal cell-culture technology.” USDA-FSIS directly encouraged the Animal Law & Policy Clinic to submit comments on the ANPR to “expand FSIS’ understanding of cell-based products and…help inform FSIS’ approach to the issues you raised in your petition.”
At the same time, USDA-FSIS formally denied the U.S. Cattlemen’s petition to redefine the terms “meat” and “beef” in the agency’s Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book, and further clarified that USDA-FSIS “does not have jurisdiction to regulate the labeling of products derived from sources that are not amenable to the FMIA or PPIA, such as plant-based products.”
Labeling is one of the most important vehicles producers can use to communicate information about their products to consumers. Product names are particularly vital for helping consumers understand new food processes such as those used to produce cultivated meat and poultry products. In the United States, language on product labels is generally protected as commercial speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In March 2019, the USDA and FDA announced a “formal agreement to jointly oversee the production of human food products derived from the cells of livestock and poultry” that allocated different aspects of regulating cultivated meat and poultry products between the two agencies. That agreement designated labeling oversight to USDA-FSIS and very closely adhered to public comments submitted by the Animal Law & Policy Program and Food Law and Policy Clinic on regulatory jurisdiction in December 2018. Those recommendations in turn were informed by the Clean Meat Regulatory Roundtable the Program and Clinic hosted at Harvard Law School in August of 2018. That roundtable convened experts and stakeholders from science, industry, government, law, academia, and advocacy to participate in a closed-door workshop to assess the regulatory landscape for cultivated meat and poultry products, identify potential challenges, and recommend strategic paths forward. Participants included a former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, former attorneys from the FDA Chief Counsel’s office, and the founders of several cultivated meat companies.