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:

Local Situation

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.