Say, what? New twist on standards of identity: How will fake milk and fake meat be labeled and regulated?
By Sherry Bunting, updated since first published in Farmshine, November 21, 2018
WASHINGTON, D.C. – “Dairy reinvented: Sustainable. Kind. Delicious,” is the tagline of Perfect Day’s website.
“Better meat, better world” are the words that jump from the Memphis Meats website.
To be more specific, Perfect Day’s mission is to “create a better way to make dairy protein, the same nutritious protein found in cow’s milk…without the help of a single cow.”
Meanwhile, at Memphis Meats, their mission is “To bring delicious and healthy meat to your table by harvesting it from cells instead of animals… feel good about how it’s made because we strive to make it better for you… and the world.”
On the fake meat side, Memphis Meats received Series A funding from four sources in August 2017: venture capitalist DFJ, billionaire investors Bill Gates and Richard Branson, and Cargill. In January of 2018, Tyson came on board as an investor.
On the fake dairy side, Perfect Day received its Series A funding from Singapore and Hong Kong venture capital and investment companies that have relationships with some of the largest food and beverage companies and brands in the world, according to a company news release. In addition, Continental Grain was part of the early investment, and in November 2018, Perfect Day announced a partnership with Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).
The big question, at present, is how will these proteins be regulated and labeled?
The discussion is converging with FDA’s nutrition innovation strategy and modernization of standards of identity (especially dairy standards of identity), along with parallel hearings and comment periods on how to regulate and label the ‘meat’ version of lab-created cellular proteins.
Make no mistake about it folks: Both of these processes involve genetic engineering start-to-finish.
Perfect Day (fake milk protein), for example, sources yeast from USDA research labs that has been “genetically-altered” to include bovine protein stimulators and synthesizers.
Memphis Meats (fake meat) uses animal cells, mainly bovine and poultry, from cell banks that have been edited to grow only desired muscle cells — separate from their whole-animal source.
The fake dairy protein would be the end-product of the fermentation of the genetically-altered yeast, while the fake meat protein would be the protein blobs that grow from the genetically-edited cells, using neonatal bovine serum — or a plant chemical substitute that is under development — as a growth “on” button.
Both systems would require energy feed sources, using a sugar and/or starch substrate to feed the growth.
Both processes would produce waste streams.
The dairy version are grown in fermentation vats. The meat version in bioreactor towers.
While opinions vary on how quickly these technologies can scale, it is clear that the technologies are well-funded, and that agriculture’s top-tier food supply-chain processors and distributors are partnering.
We must continue to let FDA and USDA know what farmers and consumers — the two ends of the supply chain that need to be talking to each other — feel about the potential of these technologies to create captive-supply market control using interchangeable proteins in common manufactured dairy products or as protein enhancements for plant-based beverages, as well as to stretch boneless beef and poultry products with fake counterparts, namely as ground beef, hamburger, meatballs and chicken tenders and nuggets.
In a press release Friday, November 16, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that they will “jointly oversee the production of cell-cultured food products derived from livestock and poultry.”
There has been no similar FDA PMO-regultory process established for the fake milk proteins.
USDA and FDA had a public meeting in July and October to discuss the use of bovine and poultry “cell lines” to develop these cell-cultured, lab-created foods.
In fact, meat industry stakeholders shared their perspectives on the regulation that is needed to “foster these innovative food products and maintain the highest standards of public health,” said FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb in an official FDA statement in November.
USDA and FDA announced their “agreement on a joint regulatory framework wherein FDA oversees cell collection, cell banks and cell growth and differentiation. A transition from FDA to USDA oversight will occur during the cell harvest stage. USDA will then oversee the production and labeling of food products derived from the cells of livestock and poultry.”
As FDA and USDA are “actively refining the technical details of the framework,” some of the aspects of the framework are said to include robust collaboration and information-sharing between the two agencies to allow each to carry out our respective roles.
The well-funded startups and their lobbying organization Good Food Institute (a misnomer in this author’s opinion) had pushed for FDA to control labeling and inspection knowing that if USDA were in charge, their efforts to scale production would be slowed.
In view of this joint approach between FDA and USDA, the original public comment period about cell-cultured ‘meat’ had been extended to December 26, 2018. Comments can be seen at the FDA docket at https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FSIS-2018-0036-0001 and there are thoughts that this comment period could be extended again as has the dairy standards of identity comment period.
Meanwhile, on the lab-created ‘dairy’ protein front, Perfect Day, a Silicon-Valley startup, announced in a press release in November that it has formed a partnership with ADM, an agricultural processor and food ingredient provider with a mission of plant-to-plate collaboration throughout the food industry.
In fact, ADM will provide facilities for scaling this technology as part of the deal.
This partnership is billed as “teaming up” to begin supplying “the world’s first animal-free dairy proteins to the food industry in 2019,” according to Perfect Day.
“Animal-free dairy proteins will not only offer consumers the option to have a lactose-free, animal-free alternative to conventional animal-based dairy, but also provide a portfolio of nutritious and functional, high-purity proteins with similar taste and nutrition profile of dairy proteins for a wide range of food and beverage applications,” Perfect Day said in their press release.
Meanwhile, the FDA has extended — yet again — its invitation for information specifically on “the use of names of dairy foods in the labeling of plant-based products.” So far, 10,043 comments (as of December 28, 2018) have been received on this docket. To comment by the new deadline of January 28, 2019, go to the docket online at https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FDA-2018-N-3522.
Dairy checkoff-funded DMI completed a survey of consumers recently showing that 73% are confused about the differences in nutrition between real dairy milk and plant-based alternatives calling themselves ‘milk.’
Other surveys show that more than half of U.S. consumers want healthy foods with ‘clean’ labels having few ingredients and limited or no processing.
It would seem that these findings, among others, would indicate clearly to FDA and USDA that consumers want no more monkey-business when it comes to their food, that they want to see clarity in the enforcement of milk and dairy standards of identity, and that they want to be informed about look-alike ingredients made in laboratories instead of in the time-honored land-and-animal care-taking profession of dairy and livestock farmers and ranchers.
One thing to keep in mind when commenting is to highlight the fact that over half of U.S. consumers want food that does not have a long list of additives and that is minimally processed.
That, on top of nutritional differences and new unproven processes, are enough reason to aggressively label any food containing either the fake dairy or fake meat protein because standards of identity are in place not just for health and safety but also to prevent fraudulent misleading of consumers.
Consumers should know what they are buying and be able to choose food based on their beliefs about what is a better world, not someone else defining what is kind and good and sustainable for them and not using the government’s currently flawed dietary guidelines to decide for consumers what is deemed “healthy.”
Let FDA and USDA know that we as consumers and farmers want clear labeling if these technologies are going to scale into our food system. We want the fake versions to have all of the inspection rigor that real dairy and meat proteins are subjected to.
Above all, we do not want the government quietly removing — via its one-size-fits-all nutrition innovation strategy — our ability to choose foods and production methods with which we want to nourish our bodies and on which we wish to spend our hard-earned money.
This may come down to a battle between fake animal protein ingredients funded by billionaires aligned with Silicon Valley startups and partnered by the biggest names in corporate agriculture vs. a collaboration between individual farmers and ranchers who are the backbone of our nation, the stewards of land and livestock, along with the public at-large, the consumers who are confused by the lines that are blurring.
Now, more than ever, both ends of the supply chain — farmers / ranchers and consumers — need to engage with each other directly — and not through the industry-scripted mouthpieces.