There has been a lot of activity and investment in the lab-grown meat, or “cultured” meat space in the past year. Enough so that it has attracted the attention of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which announced today that it will be holding a public meeting about cultured meat technology next month.
For the uninitiated, cultured meat is animal tissue grown in a lab setting. It’s typically made through the use of starter cells from the animal, which are then developed in some kind of medium (often fetal bovine serum) in a bioreactor, then scaffolded to provide shape or texture.
Ethical and environmental issues with raising animals for slaughter and consumption have driven much of the competition and advancement in the cultured meat space, with Memphis Meats, SuperMeat, Future Meat, Aleph Farms and JUST among the leaders of this new type of food.
While it was once ridiculously expensive to grow meat in a lab, the large number of players and technological developments in the space are bringing that price down, and it seems that the FDA wants to be fully prepared before cultured meat makes it to the grocery aisle.
A meeting entitled “Foods Produced Using Animal Cell Culture Technology” will be held on July 12 in College Park, Maryland. From the FDA’s site:
The public meeting will give interested parties and the public an opportunity to comment on these emerging food technologies. Specifically, the agency is asking for input, relevant data and information on the following questions:
- What considerations specific to animal cell culture technology would be appropriate to include in evaluation of food produced by this method of manufacture?
- What kinds of variations in manufacturing methods would be relevant to safety for foods produced by animal cell culture technology?
- What kinds of substances would be used in the manufacture of foods produced using animal cell culture technology and what considerations would be appropriate in evaluating the safety of these uses?
- Are the potential hazards associated with production of foods using animal cell culture technology different from those associated with traditional food production/processing?
- Is there a need for unique control measures to address potential hazards associated with production of foods using animal cell culture technology?
In a statement, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., and FDA Deputy Commissioner Anna Abram said that they want to “help foster dialogue regarding these emerging food technologies.” It went on to assert the USDA’s jurisdiction over cultured meat because, well, cultured meat is food, after all.
In reaction to the FDA’s announcement today, The Good Food Institute, which helps promote the work being done on clean meat, released a statement of its own saying “We are heartened to see that FDA is engaged in thinking through how clean meat can come to market under the existing regulatory framework. We are also encouraged that the FDA commissioner has acknowledged the benefits of clean meat, including animal welfare and environmental impacts. The United States has a robust food regulatory regime that is more than capable of ensuring that clean meat is safe and truthfully labeled.”
Speaking of labels, the FDA said this meeting will also include what we should actually label lab-grown meat. Cultured meat has raised the hackles of traditional meat producers who do not want the waters of what we consume muddied. Earlier this year, the United States Cattlemen’s Association filed a petition with the USDA asking for beef labeling requirements. The Cattlemen were specifically asking that “…any product labeled as “beef” come from cattle that have been born, raised, and harvested in the traditional manner, rather than coming from alternative sources such as a synthetic product from plant, insects, or other non-animal components and any product grown in labs from animal cells.”
If our recent “Future of Meat” meetup in Seattle is any indication, the public meeting next month promises to be a rousing event, and more importantly, the start of a broader discussion around alternative meats. If you’re going, be sure to drop us a line and tell us how it went.