GLOBAL – The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have produced the first global assessment on the food safety aspects of cell-based foods.

The purpose of the report is to offer a sound scientific foundation for creating regulatory frameworks and efficient procedures to guarantee the safety of these alternative proteins.

More than 100 businesses worldwide are now creating cell-based food items that are ready for commercialization and waiting for clearance, according to FAO.

Other nations, including Singapore and the US, have already taken action to bring foods derived from cells to market.

Before products are widely available to consumers, FAO/WHO aimed to detect any potential concerns for food safety through publication.

The report, Food Safety Aspects of Cell-Based Food, combines information on terminology, the fundamentals of production methods, an overview of the world’s regulatory environment, and case studies from Singapore, Israel, and Qatar.

The outcomes of a FAO-led expert consultation where food safety hazards were identified are also presented.

Although the FAO refers to these meals as “cell-based,” the report acknowledges that the phrases “cultivated” and “cultured” are also frequently used by consumers, business, and government.

Whatever name is used to describe cell-based foods, FAO advises national regulatory bodies to adopt it in order to avoid future misunderstandings. This is especially important for correct labeling.

The scope of the hazard identification covered four stages of the cell-based food production process: cell sourcing, cell growth and production, cell harvesting, and food processing.

The experts concurred that even though many risks are already known and present in conventionally produced food, special attention should be paid to the special materials, inputs, ingredients (including potential allergens), and equipment inherent to cell-based food production, as these factors may require a different approach to evaluating food safety than is used for traditional foods.

Furthermore, even though generalizations about the production of cell-based foods can be made, it may be appropriate to conduct case-by-case food safety assessments because every product may use a different combination of cell sources, scaffolds/microcarriers, culture media compositions, cultivation conditions, and reactor designs.

The paper also mentions that most nations’ novel food regulatory systems can be used to govern cell-based foods.

Limited data impedes decision making

While the U.S. has addressed labeling and safety requirements for food made from the cultured cells of livestock and poultry through a formal agreement between the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture(USDA), Singapore has already amended its novel food regulations to specifically include cultured meat.

Also, the USDA has announced that it plans to create rules for the labeling of meat and poultry products made from animal cells.

Despite the fact that the list of risks serves as a starting point for subsequent actions, more data must be generated and shared globally because, in the words of FAO, there is “currently a limited amount of information and data on the food safety aspects of cell-based foods to support regulators in making informed decisions”.

International collaboration would help different food safety regulatory agencies build an evidence-based strategy to guarantee the food safety of cell-based foods, especially those in low- and middle-income nations.

The current report comes after three background papers on the terminology, general production method, and current regulatory frameworks of cell-based foods that were released by FAO and WHO in October 2022.

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) also recently identified a number of risk areas in cultured meat while noting that knowledge and data gaps still exist.

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