The fight among startups to create the first slaughter-free meat needs a referee — badly.
While companies around the world race to turn animal cells into restaurant-grade products that eschew the environmental and ethical baggage of traditional meat, a battle is brewing over who gets to police them.
On one side is the the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which has the bulk of participation from most of the leading Silicon Valley startups in the space.
On the other is the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is represented by the majority of traditional American meat producers, such as the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
Of the two agencies who could regulate the brave new world of cultured meat, the FDA appeared — at least at first — to be leading the charge. Earlier this month, it hosted the first cultured meat meeting to start the discussion on the subject.
A handful of leading startups and scientific groups in the space attended. Notably, the USDA was not invited, despite asking to be included in a letter sent to the White House budget office the day before the meeting.
Now, the old guard of meat makers is going directly to President Trump to ask that the USDA — and not the FDA — is appointed to be the agency that oversees cultured meat.
In a letter sent to Trump on Thursday, groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Chicken Council, and National Turkey Federation wrote that the USDA is "uniquely equipped" to ensure that cultured meat products are labeled, tested, and marketed "in a manner that provides a level playing field in the marketplace."
After calling out the FDA meeting as a "power grab," they said cultured meat producers should be subject to the same regulatory rules as they are — rules that currently come from the USDA.
"If cell-cultured protein companies want the privilege of marketing their products as meat ... they should be happy to follow the same rules as everyone else," the letter read.
But cultured meat startups and nonprofit groups who support their work say the FDA should be the ones in charge, citing the fact that traditional meat regulators wouldn't have a great deal of expertise in overseeing their products.
"My favorite question," Matt Ball, a senior media relations specialist with the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that promotes the development of cultured meat, told Business Insider, "What would a USDA inspector do? Stand there and stare at a clean meat cultivator?"
This article was originally published by Business Insider.