Consumer Reports, published by the 7 million-member nonprofit Consumers Union, last week reported on survey results showing the public expects laboratory-produced meat from cultured animal cells to be clearly labeled. The results show the public favors different language that those pushing the new products.

“By an overwhelming margin, our survey found that consumers want clear labels identifying meat produced in the lab from cultured animal cells,” said Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist for Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports.

“Federal regulators should ensure these emerging food products are clearly labeled so consumers can make informed choices for their families and easily distinguish them from conventional meat.”

The Consumer Reports phone survey found that 49 percent said it should be labeled as “meat, but accompanied by an explanation about how it is produced,” while another 40 percent said it should be labeled as “something other than meat.”  

Only five percent thought it should be labeled as meat “without any further explanation.”

This new technology, which was subject of a  July 12 FDA forum, involves taking cells from a food animal and getting those cells to grow and differentiate in a suitable growth medium that contains vitamins, lipids, amino acids, and growth hormones, including fetal calf serum.  

During his testimony at the FDA meeting, Hansen noted that the vats in which the lab meat is cultured contain animal cells in a large nutrient solution, which can become contaminated with disease-causing bacteria, viruses, fungi and mycoplasma.

“In addition, when given a list of seven terms and asked to choose which would constitute accurate labels, the most commonly chosen terms were ‘lab-grown meat’ (35 percent) and ‘artificial or synthetic meat’ (34 percent). The least commonly chosen terms were ‘cultured meat’ (11 percent), ‘clean meat’ (9 percent ), and ‘in vitro meat’ (8 percent),” Hansen added

Consumers Union has urged federal regulators to require pre-market safety testing of cell-cultured meat products. The consumer group warned that the lab meat industry should not be allowed to take advantage of the “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)” loophole which allows food producers to avoid getting approval for a new food substance as a food additive.  

Under the GRAS process, a company that wants to introduce a new substance into food can evaluate the substance’s safety through its own small panel of scientists. The company is not required to notify the FDA of its review.

Consumers Union is not the first to subject lab-produced cultured meat, which remains largely in a research and development stage rather than production, to survey research.

According to the North American Meat Institute, the Good Food Institute hit upon “clean meat” as the marketing term for the prospective product after conducting at least 28 surveys, focus groups, and other public opinion studies.

Investors in the new lab-meat are said to include traditional meat industry giants Tyson and Cargill along with billionaires like Bill Gates and Richard Branson. One lab-grown hamburger created in 2013 was said to have cost $300,000. The first pricy lab-grown meat could reach the market in about three years.

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