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CR calls for pre-market safety testing and close oversight of cultured meat products

USDA and FDA hold joint meeting on safety of cell culture technology

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Consumer Reports called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration today to require pre-market safety assessments of emerging cultured meat products and to subject them to close oversight to ensure the public is protected against potential health risks.  In testimony at a joint USDA-FDA meeting, the consumer group also urged the regulators to require clear labeling for meat produced from cultured animal cells so consumers can easily differentiate it from conventional meat.

“We need to make sure these food products are reviewed properly to ensure they are safe to eat before they wind up in the grocery store,” said Dr. Michael Hansen, senior scientist for Consumers Union.  “Federal regulators should closely monitor and inspect these production facilities on a regular basis to ensure the public is protected from potential contamination and other health risks.”

At this time, there is little public data available to evaluate the risks and benefits of cultured meat products.  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 meeting, Dr. Hansen emphasized the importance of close federal oversight to ensure the safety of all chemicals and other ingredients needed to get the cells to grow and differentiate; continuous monitoring of the cell lines to insure there is no  harmful contamination; and inspection of production facilities to ensure they are operating safely.

Hansen warned that the lab meat industry should not be allowed to take advantage of the “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)” process at FDA, 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.

A Consumer Reports nationally representative phone survey conducted in June 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%).

Michael McCauley, mmccauley@consumer.org, 415-902-9537 (cell); 415-431-6747, ext. 7606 (office)