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Consumer Reports survey: Consumers want clear labeling to distinguish “lab grown meat” from conventional meat

Consumers Union calls for pre-market safety testing of “lab-grown meat” at FDA meeting

July 12, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A Consumer Reports nationally representative phone survey conducted in June found that the vast majority of Americans think that meat produced in a lab from cultured animal cells should be differentiated in some way from conventional meat on the label.  The survey was released on the same day that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a public meeting on the safety of these emerging food products.

“By an overwhelming margin, our survey found that consumers want clear labels identifying meat produced in the lab from cultured animal cells,” said Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist for Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports.  “Federal regulators should ensure these emerging food products are clearly labeled so consumers can make informed choices for their families and easily distinguish them from conventional meat.”

The Consumer Reports survey found that 49 percent said it should be labeled as “meat, but accompanied by an explanation about how it is produced,” while another 40 percent said it should be labeled as “something other than meat.”  Only five percent thought it should be labeled as “meat without any further explanation.”

In addition, when given a list of seven terms and asked to choose which would constitute accurate labels, the most commonly chosen terms were “lab-grown meat” (35%) and “artificial or synthetic meat” (34%).  The least commonly chosen terms were “cultured meat” (11%), “clean meat” (9%), and “in vitro meat” (8%).

This new technology involves taking cells from a food animal and getting those cells to grow and differentiate in a suitable growth medium that contains vitamins, lipids, amino acids, and growth hormones, including fetal calf serum.  During his testimony at the FDA meeting, Dr. Hansen noted that the vats in which the lab meat is cultured contain animal cells in a large nutrient solution, which can become contaminated with disease-causing bacteria, viruses, fungi, and mycoplasma.

Consumers Union has urged federal regulators to require pre-market safety testing of cultured meat products.  The consumer group warned that the lab meat industry should not be allowed to take advantage of the “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)” loophole which allows food producers to avoid getting approval for a new food substance as a food additive.  Under the GRAS process, a company that wants to introduce a new substance into food can evaluate the substance’s safety through its own small panel of scientists.   The company is not required to notify the FDA of its review.

Michael McCauley, mmccauley@consumer.org, 415-431-6747, ext. 7606