Scott Gottlieb, the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and better known around The Spoon as the guy who brought the debate over what to label “meat” and “milk” to national attention, announced his resignation from THE FDA today. It will go into effect next month.
In the age of Trump, it’s easy to assume an ulterior motive for any sudden prominent agency head departure. But according to The Washington Post, Gottlieb wanted to spend more time with his family in Connecticut, and the White House did not ask for his resignation.
Whatever the reason, we’ve spilled our fair share of ink covering Mr. Gottlieb’s tenure at the FDA, as he thrust the agency into the debate over which government body should oversee the regulation of emerging lab-grown or “cultured” meat products and what they should be called. He even held a public meeting on the topic to take comment as it developed those new regulations. Meat lobbying groups were insistent that only products derived from animals that were born, raised and slaughtered could be labeled as meat.
Given that cultured meat is still a ways off, Gottleib’s prominent work in the space was more of an attempt to get ahead of an issue before it literally hit the market, and to a certain extent, he succeeded. The FDA and USDA later agreed to a framework that divvied up regulatory responsibilities for the forthcoming cultured meat, and he did bring the labeling debate to national attention.
But Gottlieb probably got a little more attention than he wanted when he extended the labeling debate over to “milk.” At a Politico Summit last summer, Gottlieb said the FDA would start more strictly enforcing existing rules around what could be marketed as milk, a move that could spell trouble for the booming plant-based milk industry. FDA guidelines say that milk comes from a lactating animal, which made Gottlieb quip “An almond doesn’t lactate.” This joke caught the ear of Stephen Colbert, who mocked Gottlieb, saying ““If it ain’t from a mammal, you can’t call it milk; it has to be ‘soy juice’ and ‘almond sweat.”