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Cell-Cultured Meat Continues to Make Progress Toward Market

Jan 14, 2022

By Dana Graber, Senior Counsel, Legal and Regulatory Affairs, FMI

The food industry continues to accelerate innovation in all aspects of business, from the ways that products are delivered to customers to the types of foods being offered for sale. Now more than ever, consumers continue to demand a wide variety of products meeting different criteria related to health, sustainable production methods and more. Cell-cultured meat, which is cultured using animal cells obtained from livestock, poultry, or seafood versus using traditional slaughter methods, is one such innovation shaking up the meat category. Although we have previously discussed the rise of flexitarians, cell-cultured meat will provide new offerings for consumers who may be less interested in plant-based alternatives.

By way of background, in 2019 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agreed to share jurisdiction over foods made with cell-cultured technology, with FDA overseeing cell collection, growth, and differentiation and USDA overseeing the harvest, processing, packaging, and labeling of the products. Last year, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) to request comments pertaining to the labeling of these cell-cultured meat and poultry products. The ANPR solicited feedback on various questions such as the differentiation of these products from slaughtered meat, terms that could be used to convey the source of the food and other aspects related to the labeling of these products.

According to FMI’s report Transparency Trends: Omnichannel Grocery Shopping from the Consumer Perspective, more than 80% of shoppers say transparency is important or extremely important in their buying decisions. In terms of how consumers define transparency, they indicate a desire for a complete list of ingredients, plain English description of ingredients, certifications, in-depth nutritional information and information about how foods are produced and ingredients are sourced. In December, FMI filed comments to the ANPR docket focusing on, among other things, a framework that fosters both transparency and consumer confidence. For example, our comments encourage USDA to conduct research into what terms most clearly and appropriately convey the sourcing differences to consumers without favoring one sourcing method over another.

We do not know exactly what USDA will chose to do regarding the labeling of these products, but we will continue to monitor this issue closely. Although the agencies do not adopt identical policies, we note that USDA and FDA regulations often closely mirror each other. As such, how USDA handles the labeling of cell-cultured meat could have implications for FDA-regulated foods as well. For example, if USDA requires a clear distinction between traditionally sourced and cell-cultured products, it is quite possible that FDA might adopt similarly stringent labeling requirements for plant-based or other products.

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