Experts are to meet in Singapore next month to talk about the safety of cell-based food.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) will organize the event from Nov. 1 to 4.

The aim is to develop a document with up-to-date technical knowledge on the safety aspects of cell-based food production. This is likely to be published in early 2023.

An online session held by FAO and WHO in October saw scientists decide to use the term cell-based but they suggested more work was needed before there is international harmonization of the terminology.

“Nomenclature can have a significant impact on consumer perception, marketing efforts and relevant regulatory actions such as labeling,” said Masami Takeuchi, food safety officer at FAO. 

Most hazard already known

FAO and the Israeli Ministry of Health hosted a meeting in September where researchers and developers discussed the safety of cell-based foods. The technology produces animal proteins without slaughtering them via in vitro cultivation of cells.

Ahead of the meeting in Singapore, three documents have been published on terminology, production processes and regulation.

The first work found cell-based, cultivated and cultured were the three major terminologies used or preferred by consumers, industry and authorities. Other terms include in vitro, artificial, lab-grown and fake.

It will support policymakers to make informed decisions on selecting cell-based food terminologies that could be used in communications or in legislation on such products.

In December 2020, cultured chicken nuggets became the first commercialized product after market approval in Singapore.

There are currently a range of different terminologies in relation to the technologies, production processes and final products, which may hamper communication. Terms can also influence consumer perceptions and national regulatory frameworks, including the possible labelling requirements to provide consumers with information on safety, allergens, and nutrition.

Production and legislation points

The second document looked at the generic production process to lay the foundation for potential hazard identification. Cell-based food production could include different animal proteins from beef, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish and others, including dairy and eggs.

Manufacturing steps vary depending on the type of cell line used such as livestock, poultry, fish or seafood and the final product, for example a burger or nuggets. However, it generally includes four key stages: target tissue or cell selection, isolation, preparation and storage, cell proliferation and possible cell differentiation during large-scale biomass production, tissue or cell harvesting, and processing and formulation of food products.

Based on a literature review, most potential food safety hazards, such as microbiological contamination and residue issues, are not new, so risk-mitigating tools are available.

It is just a matter of time before cell-based food is being authorized in countries besides Singapore and traded across borders, according to the third document.

In addition to food safety, regulatory considerations may include issues such as labelling, consumer preference and acceptance and ethical or religious aspects.

Analysis indicates that, in most countries, cell-based foods can be assessed in existing novel food regulations.

In the United States, jurisdiction is dependent on the animal from which developers take the cultured cells. FDA will handle the initial stages of production, including the collection, banking, growth and differentiation of cells for livestock, poultry, and Siluriformes fish. USDA-FSIS will oversee the processing, packaging, and labelling of the resulting meat and poultry products.

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