Harvard Cell-Based Meat Labeling Letter to USDA

June 11, 2020

Harvard’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic has sent a 20-page letter to the United States Department of Agriculture urging the agency to adopt a labelling approach for cell-based meat and poultry products that does not overly restrict speech and that respects the First Amendment.

In February, the USDA announced that it likely will initiate rule-making, a lengthy public process for drafting new regulations, to address labeling cell-based (or “cultivated”) meat and poultry products.  Under an agreement with the FDA, the USDA ultimately is responsible for overseeing the labeling of these products, but the specific manner in which the agency will regulate product labels and product names remains unknown.

While these labeling regulations are still under development, our Harvard Law School Animal Law & Policy Clinic’s principle positions and requests are as follows:

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture should not establish new standards of identity and should not ban the use of common or usual meat and poultry terms or product names specified in existing standards of identity (such as “beef”, “burger”, “chicken”, “sausage”, etc.). Such a ban likely violates the First Amendment and its commercial speech protections.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture should require disclosures or qualifying language on cell-based meat labels only when doing so is necessary to protect consumers from an increased food safety risk or material compositional difference.
  • Before requiring any such disclosures or qualifiers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service should: 1) wait until it has had the opportunity to determine the composition and safety of finished cell-based meat products; 2) review actual proposed labels; and then, 3) assess what, if any, specific labeling requirements are essential on a case-by-case basis to protect consumers from being misled.
  • The Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic further requests that the U.S. Department of Agriculture coordinate closely with the Food and Drug Administration as it develops its proposed cell-based meat labeling rules.

“These technologies all deserve as fair a chance as any other new technologies, and these companies should not have their First Amendment Rights infringed upon,” said Kelley McGill JD ’20 who worked on the letter with Clinical Instructor Nicole Negowetti.