FAO and WHO Weigh In on Cultivated Meat Safety With New Report

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As the industry gets closer to widespread regulatory approval, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) released their first report on the safety aspects of the nascent cultivated meat industry.

The report, which was released last week, aims to help regulatory agencies develop frameworks for approval and safety protocols for cultivated meat.

The FAO and WHO estimate more than 100 companies across the globe are currently developing cultivated meat products. Many of those products are ready to scale pending approval.

California’s Eat Just is the only company with a cultivated meat product approved for sale. It received approval from the Singapore Food Agency in 2020. It has also become one of just two companies in the U.S. to receive a “no questions” letter from the FDA on cultivated meat — the first step of the two-agency approval process; USDA must also give the companies a green light before they can take their products to market.

Regulating cell tech

In the new report, entitled, Food Safety Aspects of Cell-Based Food, the FAO and WHO look at terminology, principles governing the production process, the current and future regulatory processes across the globe, as well as case studies from countries including Singapore, Qatar, and Israel.

Upside Foods' cultivated chicken
Upside Foods’ cultivated chicken | Courtesy

The report looks at safety risks across the four stages of developing cell-based food, which includes sourcing, growth and production, harvesting, and food processing. The agencies say that like conventional meat production bears many safety risks, cell-based food could also be exposed to risk factors connected to the materials, inputs, equipment, and ingredients used in cultivated meat development.

The agencies say more research is needed as presently there is “a limited amount of information and data on the food safety aspects of cell-based foods to support regulators in making informed decisions.” It calls for international collaborative efforts to benefit food safety regulatory authorities, particularly those in low- and middle-income countries.

‘A step toward the international standards that we envisioned’

“This FAO report is a step toward the international standards that we envisioned would be necessary when we introduced the world to cultivated meat in 2013,” Dr. Mark Post, the co-founder and chief science officer of the Dutch cultivated meat producer Mosa Meat, said in a statement.

Post and his team were the first to develop a cultivated beef burger and have since made achievements in the sector, including developing a fetal bovine serum alternative; it made its technology available for the industry’s benefit. Post also serves on the FAO technical panel.

Mark Post
Mark Post with the first cultivated beef burger | Courtesy David Parry/PA

According to Post, the FAO and WHO identified the credible areas where safety risks could be “assessed and addressed” in making cultivated foods.

“We also evaluated unscientific scenarios popular amongst detractors of cellular agriculture and found them to be so unlikely that they do not merit further discussion,” he said. “In short, food safety risks in cultivated meat are similar to those in conventional meat, and they can be contained by proper handling and testing like in conventional meat.”

The report also dives into the sector’s nomenclature; the FAO refers to the tech as “cell-based”, but the sector has widely adopted “cultivated.” The report urges regulatory bodies to be clear and consistent with their language around the tech to help expedite labeling and ensure clear communication as the industry expands.


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