An assessment of hazards in cell-based meat products has found considerable gaps in knowledge.
There are several areas where data is lacking or information is required to manage the risk or hazard that the products may pose. More work is needed from the cultured meat industry and by regulators to help understand the hazards of individual products, found the assessment published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The purpose of the report was to identify hazards in the cultivated meat production process to help inform the FSA risk assessment process for authorization. It was also important that products do not pose any microbiological or chemical concerns. The research was based on a review of scientific literature in 2020.
There was little or no data on the final analytical composition of products, key toxicology data, nutrition profiles, product stability, allergy risk, and any recorded adverse effects when consumed by animals or humans.
As of March 2023, there are no cultivated meat products permitted for sale on the British market but approval for cell-cultured chicken was granted in Singapore in late 2020 and is being looked at in the United States. It is expected that such products will come under novel food regulations in the UK. This means each one will need pre-market approval and be assessed by a panel of experts for potential risks.
Cell-based meat is also known as cultivated or cultured. Other terms include in vitro, artificial, lab-grown, and fake. Cell-based food production involves culturing cells isolated from animals without slaughter.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are organizing a webinar on food safety and cell-based food on April 5. The agencies have already published several documents but a final report will be released during the webinar.
The FSA report found there are several stages of development for producing cultured meat and at each one, different chemicals, biologics, media formulations, additives, and supplements are used. The contamination risk of each input needs to be assessed, as any undesirable components that remain in the final product need to be at an acceptable exposure level or be food-grade and safe.
Examples of possible issues
Problems may arise from contaminated reagents or air, the water bath, poorly cleaned or maintained equipment and the cell culturist not following cleaning protocols, good laboratory practices (GLP) or good manufacturing practices (GMP).
Antibiotics and fungicides, such as penicillin, streptomycin, and gentamicin are used in cell cultures to prevent infection. Some cell isolation, proliferation, and differentiation protocols also use chemicals that are toxic to humans.
It is not clear whether viruses will prove a significant health hazard through the consumption of cell-cultured meat products, but literature sources suggest the risk will be less or the same as that posed by eating meat.
There may be a risk of cross-contamination of one cell line into another cell due to the use of multiple lines. Cross-contamination can come from many sources including poor maintenance of equipment, poor cleaning regimes, incorrect storage of cells, working with multiple cell lines in one area, using the wrong cells, and incorrect labeling.
One area is the potential to use cell lines of animals not common in local diets. The chance to eat exotic animals could appeal to the consumer, but there may be risks such as the transfer of new diseases and viruses and allergic reactions to new proteins.
Another potential hazard was the nutritional impact of products, as the nutrition profile could be different from what it is replacing. Current cultured meat lacks the sensory and nutritional properties of traditional meat. So additives, such as flavorings, colorings, vitamins, and minerals may be added to the culture that impacts the final nutrition of the product.
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