Cultured Meat Gains Ground Affecting Food Safety
By now I’m sure you’ve heard of cultured or lab grown meat. Rather than meat harvested by standard animal production, lab grown meat uses cultured cells to create meats such as beef, chicken, pork, or even seafood.
The History of the Cultured Meat
Going back to 1931, Winston Churchill predicted in the future such things as lab grown meat would eventually be the norm. For many years, this was nothing more than science fiction used in storytelling. However, twenty years ago, NASA started funding research to explore whether long term astronauts could have the capability of growing meat. This research has led to many studies and tests throughout the world to evaluate what’s currently possible and yet plausible with some future development and fiscal restrictions. By 2013, the first lab grown meat product of a hamburger was cooked up and served for a taste test group. Today, we sit with the capability and claims that cultured products such as ground meat, hot dogs, fish, duck, and chicken nuggets—to name but a few—are possible of being lab grown. The cost of production initially was very high per pound, but as investors are taking notice and knowledge is growing, the price per production is drastically going down from its initial numbers, bringing this former dream closer to a store shelf near you.
Video: The Meat Revolution, Mark Post, World Economic Forum (CC BY 3.0, Source: Wikimedia.org)
What Does This Mean for Food Safety?
Recently, on October 23rd and 24th, two of the biggest agencies of U.S food safety, the USDA and FDA, hosted a joint public meeting to discuss lab grown meat. While this has been a work upcoming for many years, it’s becoming much closer to market shelves. To prepare for this, the FDA and USDA discussed safety issues, potential production hazards, food labeling, and marketing claims.
Together, both of these agencies must work together to determine how to label lab grown meat, regulate it for safety, and then determine which agency has the legal authority of oversight. The USDA regulates beef, pork, sheep, goat or horse products, and poultry. However, the FDA regulates seafood and other protein dense foods such as venison or bison. Many of these items are capable of lab grown meat production, so the question is: who will control the regulatory status of these items dependent upon their production classification? Many members of the traditional meat industry want the USDA to regulate this solely as they are already experienced with meat derived from livestock and poultry and believe the USDA will effectively handle lab grown products to not be labeled solely as “meat”.
Ultimately, this all leads to more questions of whom will govern the process, what procedures will be in place, and how will the end result be labeled to the consumer. This has many implications around the industry, and what does this mean for the food safety certification world? Lab grown meat has to be continually tested throughout the process to ensure no contamination by fungus, bacterial, or other items during the process. How will this be inspected and certified? What types of standards can lab cultured meat be certified to? These are questions that will have to be answered going forward. However, what is abundantly clear is the future of food safety in regards to the meat industry will be changing in the near future.
Your Thoughts and Concerns
As this topic is really beginning to pick up traction and become more discussed as technology advances and mainstream lab production becomes closer daily to your consumer shelves, we would love to hear any comments, questions, or concerns you have in regards to lab grown meats—in particular in regards to certification, labeling, or inspections.