Cultured meat is recently a topic attracting increasing interest. Cultured meat, also referred to as lab-grown meat, in vitro meat, etc, is meat produced from animal cell culture techniques. It is intended to be consumed as an alternative to conventional meat products.
Production of Cultured Meat
To produce cultured meat, cells are first collected from target animals and allowed to proliferate in a culture medium under a controlled environment. The cells may also be grown onto a supporting structure referred to as a scaffold which provides an anchor for cell attachment and growth to produce products resembling meat muscle or other animal parts targeted to be produced.
After the cells have formed a sufficient amount, the cellular materials can be harvested from the growth medium. If a scaffold is used, it will be separated from the cultured meat or left attached if the scaffold is edible. The harvested cultured meat is prepared into the final product.
Production process of cultured meat, e.g. from muscle cells
Safety Assessment of Cultured Meat
The production of cultured meat involves animal cell culture technology that is relatively new to food production and significantly different from the production of conventional meat products. There is thus concern on the potential food safety risks to consumers.
Currently, places such as the Mainland China, European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Singapore have taken into account different considerations in their control of cultured meat and put in place assessment criteria for the evaluation of food safety of culture meat products prior to marketing.
In producing cultured meat for human consumption, the developer has the responsibility for ensuring that the product is safe for human consumption. In the safety assessment of cultured meat, the information required generally involves information on production, data on composition, allergenicity, toxicological and nutritional aspects, etc. Aspects evaluated in the safety assessment of cultured meat generally include:
- Characterisation of the cultured meat
- Identity and purity (e.g. major components and impurities present)
- Physical and chemical properties
- Production process
- Detailed description of the production process
- Information such as the source and preparation of cell lines, culture media and scaffolding materials used, purity and genetic stability of cell culture during the manufacturing process
- Compositional data
- Key chemical, physical and microbiological parameters
- Proposed uses and levels of consumption
- Target groups
- Consumption amount
- Estimate of exposure to undesirable substances
- Precautions and restrictions of use
- Any use in other countries / places
- Toxicokinetics information
- Absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion
- Nutritional information
- Toxicological information
- Acute toxicity
- Chronic toxicity
- Reproductive and developmental toxicity
- Analytical detection method
- Any safety assessment reports conducted by food safety authorities in other countries / places; and
- Any other relevant information to support the safety (e.g. digestibility assays for cultured meat).
At present, cultured meat products are not yet commercially available in Hong Kong. The current production technology is still costly and requires research and development to further reduce the cost and make large-scale production of cultured meat more economically viable.
According to the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap 132), all food for sale in Hong Kong should be wholesome and fit for human consumption. The Ordinance applies to all foods including cultured meat. Developers of cultured meat should ensure that the cultured meat products are safe for human consumption.