FDA Publishes Request for Comment for Cell-Cultured Seafood Products

Over the last few years we’ve seen substantial growth in the plant-based market creating meat substitutes to reduce the environmental impact of traditional livestock farming practices. To put it simply, if the demand for meat does not go down, it won’t be long before meeting that demand becomes impossible and the holes in the ozone layer due to the release of methane gasses become to large to fix. In addition to plant-based efforts by multiple brands, another type of meat has begun to emerge and this particular meat is now open for public commentary per the FDA. Cell-cultured food products are now becoming a large enough niche that they have begun to require the need for regulation around labeling and representation. And as of early October 20202, the FDA has opened the forum for guiding input from not only stakeholders, but the the public as well.

What is Cell-Cultured Meat?

Cultured meat is created when the cells of a recently-slaughtered animal are harvested and later multiplied in a laboratory. They are then cultured to mimic the taste, texture and other components of the meat of origin. In the case of JUST products, they have been able to successfully create plant-based egg substitute by using this same process with chicken eggs. These egg cells are then attached to a mung-bean mixture and then cultured to create very convincing egg-like replicas that you’ve probably seen in your grocery store at least once.

JUST eggs are made from egg cells but are egg free and therefore are deemed safe to consume by vegans and even those who might have an egg sensitivity. More than JUST eggs, cell-cultured meats have begun to hit the market and the latest to be open for input is cultured meat containing seafood cells.

Fishless Front-Runners

A cell-based start-up founded by Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, Blu Nalu, is one such company who will be affected by the public input regarding their labeling. This particular fish-free manufacturer just closed on it’s Series A funding, raising $20M in the first round.

cell-cultured fish

The FDA requests commentary to avoid the representation of cell-cultured fish.

“Based in San Diego, Calif., BlueNalu is developing seafood products directly from fish cells using cellular aquaculture, whereby living cells are isolated from fish tissue, placed into culture media for proliferation, and then assembled into fresh and frozen seafood products. The company plans to produce a broad array of marine species, but is initially focusing on finfish including mahi-mahi, red snapper, tuna, and yellowtail.” 

Another California start-up, Finless Foods, is honing in on creating a bluefin tuna substitute. Bluefin tuna is now considered an endangered animal that can not be farmed using aquaculture. This being the driving reason behind the company’s mission to provide an alternative.

Not Open for Interpretation

Behind the FDA’s request for commentary is the intention to avoid the misbranding of cell-based meat products as actual meat. It wasn’t very long ago that  the meat industry went head to head with other plant-based meat substitutes over the misrepresentation of plant-based meat as real meat. In the spirit of avoiding another meat-astrophe, the FDA is bringing the subject to light far before Blu Nalu launches their products in mid-2021.

“FDA suggested that there are no common usages of the term “cultured seafood” yet, and is inviting commenters to provide any evidence to the contrary. FDA has also asked for feedback on whether labeling should give details about the novel production method associated with these products. To that end, FDA requested input on the descriptor “cultured,” as consumers may be familiar with the term “aquaculture,” but not “cell-cultured production.” Commenters are also invited to explain why possible alternative terms may better describe the product (i.e., “cell cultured,” “cell-based,” or “cell-cultivated”).”

These windows of opportunity open up a chance for food manufacturers and consumers alike to find a common ground in how food products should be presented to the public. To have your voice heard on the matter, you can go to https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/10/07/2020-22140/labeling-of-foods-comprised-of-or-containing-cultured-seafood-cells-request-for-information .

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