There is a brand new kind of food entering the market, and how cell-based meat will be perceived and regulated is still up for debate. Cell-based seafood companies BlueNalu and Finless Foods are teaming up with meat and poultry cell-based meat companies to create a united front.
Cell-based, or ‘cultured’ meats are meat, poultry and seafood products that are grown in a lab, using cultured animal cells. In order to represent the joint interests of these innovative new companies, a coalition was formed to work with government and determine what regulation and labeling will look like when these new types of foods start to populate supermarket shelves. The Alliance for Meat, Poultry & Seafood Innovation (AMPS Innovation for short) is comprised of 5 cell-based meat companies: BlueNalu, Memphis Meats, JUST, Finless Foods and Fork & Goode.
“We want people to buy this on purpose, we’re not trying to trick people at all”
Companies in this industry are navigating uncharted territory, and thus, regulation behind cell-based meat is constantly evolving. In order to work effectively with government and consumers, communicating about this emerging food technology as a united front is vitally important. AMPS innovation seeks to educate the public about cell-based meats and the science behind them, while informing new policy and regulation to get the products on the market.
“We commend FDA and USDA for the work they have already done... We look forward to seeing additional details to establish a clear, predictable, efficient, and risk-based regulatory path to market for cell-based/cultured products”
The FDA-USDA Joint commission on cell-based meats took shape in March 2019 to tackle the uncertainty surrounding cell-based meat regulation and will allow the USDA and FDA to work in tandem to establish regulations and labeling. AMPS Innovation is working with the commission to demystify what cell-based meat actually is and how it should be approached. “We think that the USDA and the FDA are really doing an awesome job,” says Mike Selden, CEO and co-founder of Finless Foods, a cell-based seafood company currently growing Bluefin tuna.
One major step in the process is creating the language to discuss these products. Language is incredibly powerful and carries with it many biases and inherent meanings that can sway consumer perceptions. It is the difference between a rack of lamb and a sheep carcass, an omelette and a cooked embryo. The language in the newly introduced Enzi-tester bill could have major implications for the cell-based meat industry. “The bill wants to cement putting the word ‘imitation’ in front of all cell-based meat products on packaging,” says Selden, “We think that this isn’t really accurate and creates a health concern because the word ‘imitation’ implies vegetarian or vegan which it’s not”.
For Finless Foods and BlueNalu, companies that produce seafood, the concern is that the word ‘imitation’ could confuse consumers with seafood allergies and have health implications if they mistakenly eat cell-based fish, thinking it is imitation fish. Although cell-based fish was not pulled from the water, it is still comprised of real fish cells.
Regarding food safety regulation; “Whats nice about the US regulatory system is that it is product-focused rather than process-focused so instead of making sure every step of our process is the same as how a fish would grow meat, it looks at the end product, which is more scientific”. Under the joint framework, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will oversee the production and labeling of cell-based meat and poultry, however the regulation of cell-based seafood will fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA.
Right now, AMPS Innovation is focusing on educating the public and getting people comfortable with the idea of cell-based meat; “Within the next few years it will definitely be on the market,” says Selden, because the science and technology behind cell-based meat are already developed, “the question of ‘is this going to work?’ is over, now it’s just a question of when”.