Cell-Based Meat: Meet the Future

In recent years, plant-based meat products have gone from an option for a vegan diet to a popular dish, in fact one in every ten Americans say they do not eat meat. However, plant-based meat products are no longer the only alternative to traditional meat. Cell-based meat is a new alternative that is way “beyond” plant-based meat—it is real meat. Cell-based meat is grown in a laboratory from cells taken from living animals. This technique requires zero animal slaughter,  uses fewer natural resources,  potentially produces less air pollution, and yields less potential for environmental contamination.

The evolution of cell-based meat and sea food as a potential human food has resulted in significant disagreement about how and who should regulate the products. Since cell-based meat is produced by stem cells obtained from the species of livestock and parts of the animals, the meat may satisfy the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) current definition of meat and trigger its jurisdiction. Still, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has jurisdiction over most food products according to the Federal Drug and Cosmetic Act, which authorizes, among many other things, the FDA’s jurisdiction over biologics. Appropriately, the FDA has taken the lead role involving the safety determination of new biotechnological approaches to foods. Under 7 U.S.C § 1639(1), bioengineered food refers to food made up of genetic material that is modified in vitro using certain laboratory techniques and which modification could not have been obtained through conventional breeding or found in nature. The FDA and USDA agreed in 2019 to ensure that, when it comes to the market, cell-based meat is “safe and properly labeled.” FDA will oversee the cell collection, banking, and growth, using existing rules such as facility registration, and Current Good Manufacturing practices while USDA will conduct inspections and develop labeling for cell-based meat.

When asked about consumers being worried about a product in the market that may have such recent FDA approval, Arye Elfenbein, co-founder at Wildtype Foods, one of the food biotechnology companies that is currently working on the field of cell-based salmon, answered “the imminent availability of cultivated meat and seafood options have resulted in an illuminating dialogue between us and our future customers… the process of FDA consultation has mirrored our discussion with future customers, resulting in a thoughtful and productive exchange from the beginning.” He also added that “the process with FDA is one that has transpired over the past 4 years; it’s been an extremely thorough review, one that we believe will further bolster customer confidence when these products hit the market,” giving us a bit of an insight of the rigorous FDA approval process every cell-based startup is currently going through.

In December 2020, Singapore became the first nation to approve the sale of cultivated meat—chicken nuggets from the company Eat Just. In comparison the U.S. seems to be making regulatory strides to get cell-based meat approved by administrative agencies. The agencies published a request for comment in November of last year, asking interested parties to suggest what the cell-based meat should be called. More excitedly, as of November 16, 2022, the FDA announced the pre-approval of Upside foods, a cell-based chicken startup, making it the first company in the U.S. cell-based space to receive pre-approval from FDA. Products are expected to appear as early as 2023, and it will be interesting to see how the American public will respond to this new innovative and refreshing idea to the market.

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