Comments Summary: Labeling Cell-Cultured Seafood
Comments for the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Request for Information (RFI) for labeling of foods made from cultured seafood cells became due on March 8, 2021. FDA posted the RFI in October 2020 and sought comments primarily on nomenclature concerns (we summarized the RFI here).
In addition to a handful of comments from consumers with varied views on cell-cultured meats, FDA received comments from stakeholders such as Memphis Meats, the Environmental Defense Fund, Finless Foods, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and The Vegetarian Resource Group. Other comments not yet posted have been released from individual entities, including BlueNalu, Inc., Good Food Institute (GFI), and a joint comment from the Alliance for Meat Poultry and Seafood Innovation and the National Fisheries Institute. Some highlights from the comments are provided below.
Most comments encouraged FDA to encourage product identity statements that differentiate seafoods cultured from cells from traditional farmed or wild-caught products. Many industry comments indicated support for the term “cell-cultured” seafood or “cell-based” seafood, which many said signal to consumers that the product is not plant based and is distinct from “wild caught” or “farm raised” seafoods. Many of these comments cited two studies from Rutgers University on consumer perceptions of potential labeling terms of cell-cultured meats: Hallman & Hallman (2020) and Hallman & Hallman (2021) (both underwritten by BlueNalu, which provided a detailed summary of the studies in its comment).
Some comments noted that if a term such as “cell-cultured” were to be added to product identity statements, it should also appear in ingredient descriptions following the common or usual name of the ingredient (e.g., INGREDIENTS: Minced Pollock (cell-cultured seafood).
Other comments, including those from GFI and the Vegetarian Resource Group, suggested that descriptive phrases such as “grown from cells” or “engineered using cultured [fish species] cells” would be more effective at preventing consumer confusion given no term has yet leveraged common understanding in the new industry.
Some comments also suggested that FDA need not update The Seafood List, a nomenclature and labeling reference for seafood, as the term “cell-cultured” could be used in conjunction with the names on the list to form statements of identity.
As our readers know, FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have a formal agreement that confirms that FDA has sole regulatory oversight over food derived from cultured seafood cells, other than cells from siluformes fish (i.e. catfish) that fall under USDA jurisdiction. While FDA is expected to release guidance informed by these comments, it has not released a established a timeline for doing so.