On Thursday, the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition met with Gregory Jaffe from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in a public meeting to discuss GMOs and the regulation of the lab-grown meat industry.
During the meeting, Jaffe, who is the CSPI’s Director of Biotechnology, said that the FDA could have changed the way that consumers perceive GMOs if they had released information on the safety of such products earlier. With consumers being wary about products that contain GMOs, the term “lab-grown meat” is likely to resonate with them as a genetically modified product, which, in their eyes, may not be not healthy.
“I don’t think anyone wants to see the same thing happening with cultured meat, where products are safe and consumers don’t think that they are safe, or don’t believe the developers’ determination that they are safe,” Jaffe said.
At the hearing, scientists, food manufacturers, attorneys, industry groups, college students and consumers all had the opportunity to share their views on lab-grown meat. Many had different opinions on the topic.
Lab-grown meat producers such as Michael Selden, Co-Founder and CEO of Finless Foods, a lab-grown fish manufacturer, had prepared a presentation for members of the hearing. In his presentation, he said that the industry needs to educate consumers about lab-grown meat because this is a new product hitting the market and it’s not surprising that consumers are wary about its safety.
“We are not a scooter rental company,” Selden said. “We cannot just throw our food on the market and assume that people will trust us. Food is considerably more personal than that. We need to first show people what we are working on and how safe it is in order to gain their trust due to evidence and get them to believe in what we are making as much as we do.”
This is indicative of the lab-grown meat industry’s cooperation with the FDA’s initiative to regulate cultured meat products. In fact, other lab-grown meat companies and advocates showed support in the regulation of cultured meat as well.
Memphis Meats’ Vice President of Product and Regulation, Eric Schulze, openly described his company’s manufacturing methods at the hearing in a display of transparency. He told meeting members that the company extracts a sample of cells and places them in an aseptic environment to promote cell growth. The cells are fed a nutrient-dense serum composed of water, amino acids, vitamins, sugars, lipids, trace minerals and specific naturally-occurring proteins. They also require a specific temperature, pH and oxygen level which are adjusted in the aseptic cultivator. Once the cells are fully grown, the lab-grown meat is rinsed and packaged.
Lab-grown meat advocates also argued that their production techniques are more sanitary and therefore, they should be allowed to call their lab-grown products “clean meat.”
“We believe clean meat will be similar to meat we consume today in all important aspects — except that it is produced in an aseptic environment, thus we believe the risk of contamination can be and will be significantly reduced,” said Peter Licari, Chief Technology Officer of JUST, a lab-grown meat producer. “To effectively culture animal cells, the manufacturer has to invest in a high degree of cleanliness and sterility to assure the culture is not contaminated. This level of control also provides an assurance of the quality of the meat produced. A clean meat facility will be similar to what the FDA sees every day in both biologic and food processing plants. It will not look like a slaughterhouse, but much more like, for example, a clean fermentation-based food processing plant.”
However, consumers seem to disagree with this labeling term. A telephone survey of over 1,000 consumers done by the Consumers Union revealed that only nine percent of consumers like the term “clean meat.” However, the term “lab-grown meat” was the most popular among consumers with 35 percent of them favoring it. Following closely behind was “artificial or synthetic meat” with 34 percent of the vote.
However, it seems that manufacturers in the meat industry completely disagree with referring to lab-grown meat as a “meat” product. This might be because lab-grown meat will offer stiff competition to the meat industry because of its cruelty-free production.
“They are hijacking our branding for [the] benefit of their own marketing,” said Maggie Nutter, a representative of the US Cattlemen’s Association. “We don’t want anything that isn’t beef or meat to be labeled as such.”
All these opinions will be taken into account by the FDA and the organization has also opened an online docket where consumers can submit their opinions on this issue.