UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Cellular agriculture has quickly metamorphized from an internet curiosity to a serious policy issue, and producers and consumers in Pennsylvania and far beyond are looking for greater clarity about what this new technology might mean for their businesses and their dinner tables.
According to a team of Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences livestock experts and food scientists focused on cellular agriculture, the progress of this technology requires thorough evaluation and discussion to address the multitude of questions surrounding it.
The team believes the recent agreement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to share oversight of the cellular-based meat industry is an early bit of insight.
Those two federal agencies together will regulate cell-cultured food products derived from livestock and poultry tissue based on the respective regulatory expertise of the organizations. A joint statement released last month by the two agencies said they would be working together to “foster these innovative food products and maintain the highest standards of public health.”
The FDA will be in charge of regulating the collection, banking and growing of the cells used to make cell-cultured meat, while the USDA will work on the production and labeling of food products.
“A transition from FDA to USDA oversight will occur during the cell harvest stage,” the statement said. “This regulatory framework will leverage both the FDA’s experience regulating cell-culture technology and living biosystems and the USDA’s expertise in regulating livestock and poultry products for human consumption. USDA and FDA are confident that this regulatory framework can be successfully implemented and assure the safety of these products.”
The field of cell-cultured tissue production has been well established in bioengineering and pharmaceutical production; however, the application of this technology in food production has grown exponentially since a widely publicized product taste test in 2013.
Ready for public
Since that time, companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in cell-culture-based food production. Dozens of companies have been working continuously to create a cell-cultured meat product that is ready for the public.
While these products are still in development, debates about product labeling and food safety regulations already have begun related to oversight of this sector.
“To further complicate this debate, established meat packers are investing in cell-culture meat production technology,” said Assistant Professor of Animal ScienceElizabeth Hines, a livestock Extension specialist focusing on swine and a member of the Penn State team. “The relationship between packers and cell-cultured meat companies may affect livestock producers in different ways, with possible positive and negative outcomes.”
Making the cellular-based meat issue especially relevant, new National Academy of Sciences research suggests that cultured protein will be needed in the not-too-distant future to deal with the problems of population growth and climate change.
Standard of living
The U.S. Department of Energy-funded study estimates that global meat production could grow as much as 12 percent by 2026 due to population growth and increasing demand due to rising standards of living in lower- and middle-income countries.
Growth in meat production through livestock farming may be particularly difficult to achieve as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that globally as much as 14.5 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions — blamed for causing global climate change — are derived from livestock production.
Cell-culture-based meat production is a relevant topic to all consumers of meat products, as well as livestock producers, Hines said.
“Livestock producers who work to understand the discussion around regulation of meat production from both the livestock and cell-culture-based meat sectors will have a voice at the table for their sector, and a chance to be a collaborative part of change, rather than be pushed out by it,” he said.
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