Opinion: The NCBA needs to lighten up when it comes to cell-based technology

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In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet Act III, Scene II there is this memorable exchange:

Player Queen: 
Both here and hence pursue me lasting strife, If once I be a widow, ever I be a wife!

Player King:
‘Tis deeply sworn. Sweet, leave me here a while, My spirits grow dull, and fain I would beguile the tedious day with sleep.

Player Queen:

Sleep rock thy brain, And never come mischance between us twain!

Hamlet:

Madam, how like you this play?

Queen:

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

To “protest” in Shakespeare’s day meant to vow. Queen Gertrude is suggesting that the player queen is trying too hard to convince the audience that her vows are true and in the process loses her credibility.

Enter the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the highly anticipated joint agreement between the Food and Drug Administration and United States Agriculture Department over oversight of cell-based meat technology.

The deal – released last month – calls for FDA and USDA to each do what they do best.  FDA will regulate cell collection, cell banks, and differentiation. 

During “cell-harvest” responsibility passes to USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service which will regulate production and labeling of cell-based meats and poultry.

For the most part stakeholder’s are ecstatic with the plan.  

Here’s a sample.

Good Food Institute:  “We are excited about the opportunities this agreement affords for American agricultural producers to provide innovative methods of producing products that meet American consumers’ desires for healthy, humane, and sustainable protein sources.”

Memphis Meats (a cell-based meat start up company):  “Demand for meat is projected to double by 2050, and every stakeholder we speak with, regardless of production method, shares the goal of feeding our growing planet in a safe and sustainable way. As consumer interest for cell-based meat continues to grow, we will work with both FDA and USDA to bring safe and truthfully labeled products to market.”

North American Meat Institute:  “We support a fair and competitive marketplace that lets consumers decide what food products make sense for them and their families, and this agreement will help achieve these goals by establishing the level playing field necessary to ensure consumer confidence.”

Okay…that’s a lot of gushing.  And let’s state the obvious.  There’s bound to be some growing pains in this USDA-FDA partnership which now must develop joint principles for day-to-day operations.

But the NCBA is not happy.  Really not happy. 

After the USDA-FDA announcement in March, NCBA President Jennifer Houston had this to say, “The formal agreement announced today solidifies USDA’s lead oversight role in the production and labeling of lab-grown fake meat products.  Ensuring that all lab-grown fake meat products are safe and accurately labeled remains NCBA’s top priority.”

Fake meat. Fake meat.  Fake meat.

And just to be sure you got the message NCBA also released a one-page release titled FAKE MEAT FACTS full of protests.

All that angst is beyond the pale and makes one wonder exactly what NCBA truly fears about cell-based meats. 

Truth be told cell based meat when it reaches the plate is meat.  It comes from harvested meat cells rather than a slaughterhouse. 

The NCBA doth protest too much methinks.

About Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.

This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch.

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