What’s the Beef? The FDA, USDA, and Cell-Cultured Meat


Over the past ten years, administrative law scholarship has increasingly focused on interactions between multiple agencies. As part of this trend, most scholars have called for policymakers to combine multiple agencies, rather than rely on a single agency, to solve policy problems. The literature in this area espouses the benefits of shared regulatory space. But very little of this scholarship addresses when shared jurisdiction is problematic. This is particularly concerning when an agency opts into or cedes oversight authority to another agency at will, with little regard for whether the second agency is an appropriate regulator. The case of cell-cultured (or lab-grown) meat presents one such example. In 2018, both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture separately announced that regulating cell-cultured meat fell under their sole purview, to the exclusion of the other agency. After much back-and-forth, the agencies issued a joint statement announcing a shared system of regulatory oversight.

This Article argues that the FDA should not have ceded any of its regulatory authority to the USDA because joint regulation of cell-cultured meat, as between the FDA and USDA, is both inappropriate and unnecessary. USDA involvement is inappropriate because the Department suffers from a mixed mandate problem. Not only is the Department tasked with maximizing agricultural industry profits (and minimizing losses), but it is also tasked with nourishing Americans (and improving nutrition and health). In the case of cell-cultured meat, these two goals are diametrically opposed. Further, USDA involvement is inappropriate given the Department’s purview, as set by Congress, and its concomitant expertise. As it relates to meat, the USDA exists specifically to monitor the safety and sanitation of the nation’s farms, slaughterhouses, and meat processing and packaging plants. Consequently, all the Department’s meat-related regulations and expertise are in these areas. USDA involvement in the regulation of cell-cultured meat is also unnecessary because it is redundant. Accordingly, this Article’s analysis belies the notion that all agency collaboration is good collaboration.