According to the US nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the most “credible” route to market for cell-based meat and seafood makers is seeking a food additive petition. Publishing its report on responsible investment into the sector, EDF analysts believe that this pathway, rather than GRAS notification, is able to both provide protection for trade secrets for companies while offering meaningful scrutiny to gain consumer trust.
In a new report, EDF recommends the use of food additive petition as the best regulatory route for cell-based meat and seafood producers to get their products on the market. The report, which outlines four principles that companies in the space should follow to “demonstrate leadership in the emerging market”.
Food additive petition
The first principle in the report is to ensure that products grown directly from cells are safe for human consumption. Companies should approach government regulatory agencies to conduct a “thorough review” to affirm the safety of the product for human consumption—and this review must be credible and transparent.
In the US, there are two primary reviews that companies can seek, including food additive petition and GRAS notification. EDF argues that the former is the best route to market, “since it provides protection for trade secrets while offering a meaningful opportunity for public and third-party scientific scrutiny as well as accountability.”
On the other hand, GRAS involves self-certifying that a food is “generally recognized as safe” before submitting a voluntary notification to the FDA—a process that the EDF believes is a “loophole” that could potentially “undermine consumer trust in the food and, therefore, the prospect for the industry’s overall success.”
So far, Singapore remains the only country to have approved the sale of meat grown directly from animal cells, though regulatory developments are picking up pace in Israel, US and Qatar.
Consumer confidence in cell-based products is key for mass adoption, says the EDF, and companies should pay notice in order to ensure their products can disrupt the unsustainable food system. Cell-based meat and seafood is seen as a key solution to animal agriculture, which drives nearly a fifth of GHG emissions globally.
Compared to traditionally farmed beef, cell-based beef is estimated to be able to reduce land use by 95% and reduce GHG emissions by up to 87%, when it reaches scale by 2030.
‘Critical for cell-cultured industry to ensure growth happens responsibly and transparently’
Other principles outlined by the EDF include a commitment to “continuously improve the overall environmental footprint of cell-cultured meat and seafood products” through lifecycle analyses with academics and NGOs, as well as helping to promote programs that “maximize the net societal benefits” of such products.
Finally, the EDF recommends the use of “cell-cultured” as the labelling term to market such products, to “enable informed choices” by consumers. Earlier this year, the FDA published a document containing comments from industry stakeholders, which indicated a consensus building around the term “cell-cultured” as the best description of seafood grown directly from cells in labs.
Food techs such as BlueNalu, Upside Foods (at the time named Memphis Meats), and Finless Foods, were consulted as part of the discussion. Finless Foods, during the discussion, cited a Rutgers University study that found terms such as “cell-based” and “cell-cultured” would be most effective in informing shoppers.
GFI, a nonprofit organisation supporting the global alternative protein industry, argues that the term “cultivated” is the best way to describe such products.
In a statement about the EDF’s latest guidelines, Jenny Ahlen, senior director of EDF+Business, said that as the sector matures, it is “critical for companies, which have the greatest understanding and control of the products and how they’re made, to ensure cell-cultured foods coming to the market are safe for the planet and human health and that growth happens responsibly and transparently.”
“This includes considering the risks and other externalities that a shift in food production, consumption and supply chains can bring,” Ahlen added.
Lead image courtesy of Eat Just / Good Meat.