Conflict Over Cell-Based Meat: Who Should Coordinate Agencies in U.S. Biotechnology Regulation?

Walter G. Johnson


The technology to create meat from cellular cultures has nearly arrived, with potential environmental, animal welfare, and nutritional benefits over traditional animal agriculture. However, considerable uncertainty over the regulatory framework for this emerging biotechnology arose throughout 2018, driven by overlapping statutory authority for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) with insufficient guidance from the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology. While the FDA-USDA dispute has begun to stabilize, it reflects broader uncertainties over how to resolve jurisdictional disputes in the U.S. oversight of biotechnologies and who can or should coordinate these agencies. In the absence of a clear legal framework to answer these questions, this Article analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of varying public institutions in resolving jurisdictional disputes over novel biotechnologies. This Article assesses federal agencies, Congress, and the President with normative standards of transparency, predictability, and adaptability, considering the cell-based meat case and emerging biotechnologies broadly for insights on institutional mediation of interagency conflict.