Cell-cultured it is!

By Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals policy director

Over the past several years, EDF has been tracking the development of innovative seafood products where the components are grown from cells in tanks and combined into consumable products using extrusion, 3-D printing or other processes commonly used in the food industry. While not yet on the market, based on our discussions with at least four companies, they may be in the next few years. Their popularity will depend on consumer’s confidence that they are safe, healthy and nutritious, as well as attributes such sustainability. In a Health blog posted earlier this month, we addressed the need for the Food and Drug Administration to have a rigorous and transparent process to ensure the products are safe.

A key question is what to call these products on the label so consumers are able to easily distinguish them from wild-caught or farm-raised counterparts in a way that does not cast them in a negative or unfair light. Last September, we examined consumer research that compared various options and concluded that: 1) the label name must have the word “cell” in it; and 2) food producers needed to agree on a common name and consistently use it in order to avoid confusing consumers.

In response to requests for public comment by the FDA, the companies along with the National Fisheries Institute settled on “cell-cultured” as the best option and recommended that the agency require those products consistently use the term to avoid consumer confusion.

EDF submitted comments in support of the recommendation. After reviewing the 35 comments submitted to FDA and further research on the issue, we reaffirm that recommendation.[1] We also encourage that developers of meat products use the same term to avoid consumer confusion.


[1] One commenter summarized consumer survey results that correctly indicate that consumers have not yet settled on a common or usual name for the product and that rather than use the word “cell” in the title, other more descriptive language should be added to educate the consumer. The commenter recommended the following sentences be added to the package: “To make this product, [salmon/tuna] cells were raised in a food facility. This is a new way of producing just the [salmon/tuna] meat, rather than fishing or farming [salmon/tuna].” While we agree that the sentences would be helpful, we think consumers need — and FDA requires — a common or usual name that clearly and quickly helps them know the source of the product — wild-caught, farm-raised or cell-cultured. Most consumers are unlikely to read the sentences, especially if it is not displayed prominently on the package.

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