Labeling Cellular Meat, a USDA Goal

The US Department of Agriculture is seeking public comment on its labeling guidelines for meat and poultry products derived from cells of animal tissues.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service on Thursday released an advance notice of proposed cell-based meats regulation and plans to use the comments to inform future labeling requirements for these products.

Cultured meat products, grown from traces of living animal cells, have been a theoretical possibility for decades. Food companies have only recently started the process of creating products to sell.

Production costs and other barriers prevent items from filling store coolers. Researchers and advocates are optimistic about the benefits of the products and their potential disruption to the food industry.

In anticipation of the commercial arrival of these products, the USDA and the FDA jointly agreed in March 2019 to oversee the production of foods made using cell culture technology. The reactions have been mixed. Breeders, industry groups and other critics have shared concerns about the labeling and marketing of these products. In response, the USDA received thousands of comments on the subject and two rule making petitions.

The agency is now seeking more specific comments. USDA Assistant Under Secretary for Food Safety Sandra Eskin called it an important step forward.

[WEB LINK: Visit the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s comments page at arkansasonline.com/94fsis/]

“We want to hear from stakeholders and will consider their comments as we work on a proposed regulation for the labeling of these products,” Eskin said in a written statement Thursday.

The agency wants the public to take into account consumer expectations in terms of labeling, names that are neither false nor misleading, economic data and any consumer study related to the labeling nomenclature of products from the cell culture technology.

The advance notice also described how the agency would assess the labels of these products if they are submitted before rule development is complete.

Researchers and companies understand the upside. A study from the University of Oxford estimated that farmed beef could be produced with up to 96% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption, compared to meat conventional. The researchers also found that farmed beef was healthier: no GMOs, no foodborne illnesses, and no antibiotics.

Tyson Foods and Cargill have previously invested in Memphis Meats, a company backed by philanthropists Bill Gates and Richard Branson, among others, that produces chicken, beef and duck from animal cells. Efforts are underway to expand operations and reduce manufacturing costs to be one of the pioneers in cultured meat.

Since Dutch scientist Mark Post featured a meat-grown burger on live television in 2013, the industry has grown to more than 60 companies on six continents, according to the Good Food Institute. Singapore approved the sale of the world’s first cultivated meat product in December 2020.

There is a 60-day period for commenting on the advance notice of a regulatory proposal.

Comments can be submitted by mail, in person or online at Regulations.gov.

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