Policy Solutions

Alternative Proteins

US Federal
Agriculture

Research and Development

Federal investment in research and development (R&D) supports economic growth, drives down costs for key technologies that be used domestically and exported abroad, and promotes U.S. leadership on clean energy and climate. Very limited plant-based meat and cultivated meat research is currently being supported by U.S. government agencies, even though several agencies have expertise that is relevant to these fields. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), through the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) leads agricultural and food R&D, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has engineering and manufacturing expertise, and other agencies have relevant interest in alternative proteins.

As such, the federal government should invest in robust R&D to further explore innovations such as:

  • Plant proteins, including novel sources for raw materials, protein extraction, improved protein functionality, and cost-effective manufacturing processes;
  • Cellular agriculture, including stable cell lines, optimized cell culture media for growing meat, novel methods of scaffolding support for muscle and fat cell growth, and improved bioreactor designs; and
  • Microbial fermentation, including novel host strains, methods to address supply chain bottlenecks (e.g. bioprospecting), advanced expression toolkits to improve yield, cultivation of microalgae, and streamlined methods for food safety.

Validation and Early Deployment

Fiscal Incentives

Federal tax credits, financing, and other fiscal incentives can drive early deployment of alternative proteins. For example, subsidies applied in the distribution channel (food distributors, restaurants, and grocery stores, for instance) can act as direct incentives to suppliers to stock and promote alternative-protein products. They can also be designed to make these products more affordable. Likewise, federal programs for leasing and financing production facilities and equipment would allow manufacturers to replace high-cost, episodic capital expenditures with lower-cost, predictable operating expenses.

Procurement

The federal government’s food programs directly fund billions of meals for millions of Americans every year through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), school meals, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Policies and guidelines for these programs, as well as General Services Administration (GSA) contracting guidelines, also indirectly impact billions of dollars in purchasing decisions for retailers, vendors, and consumers. Adjustments in federal policy can result in more plant-based options in stores and on menus, allowing consumers to choose more sustainable options.

Federal Regulatory Approvals for Cultivated Meat

Regulatory schemes for this emerging method of food production must ensure public safety while offering producers a clear and efficient path to market and a level playing field with conventionally produced meat and seafood. In the United States, the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will jointly regulate the production of cultivated meat and its entry into the marketplace. They are still working to refine the technical details of this framework, but the process they settle on should keep labeling regulations on cultivated meat, poultry, and seafood from posing a barrier to market entry.

Rapid, Large Scale Deployment

Sensible Food Labeling Standards

Food labels must make sense to consumers. Lawmakers and regulators should resist efforts to prohibit the use of common terms that consumers understand (like “milk” or “cheese”) on food labels that compete with conventional meat and dairy. New restrictive legislation, regulation, or interpretation cannot be justified on the grounds of protecting consumers from misleading labels when consumers clearly have no difficulty understanding plant-based food labels.