In an era characterized by the rapid evolution of alternative proteins to build a more sustainable food system, companies are facing regulatory hurdles to clear their proteins in most jurisdictions due to absent or unclear regulatory framework. It is often asked how a company can bring alternative protein samples into a country for consumer tasting, food testing, or other marketing purposes. This can be a vital step for companies to receive feedback from consumers or downstream customers, which can provide valuable insights, particularly given its novelty, to modify and optimize protein ingredients. The good news is that some food authorities have recognized the importance of allowing these pathways and have mechanisms in place to help industry under limited circumstances.
For example, in July 2023, the Netherlands issued the Code of Practice for Safely Conducting Tastings of Cultivated Foods Prior to EU Approval (“Code of Practice”), under which animal cell-culture (e.g., meat and seafood) tastings may be permitted under controlled and safe conditions. Per the Code of Practice, the pre-approval for tastings of animal cell-culture foods in the Netherlands is required, and the assessment follows the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)’s guidance, albeit in a less onerous form. Specifically, the tastings will undergo evaluation and approval by an independent Expert Committee, consisting of four qualified experts. The Code of Practice also outlines the necessary information demonstrating the safety of cultured meat intended for tasting, such as product description, composition and production process, documented safety information (e.g., identity, chemical and/or biological structure, composition), and the content of relevant components in the product to be tasted, etc. It further specifies requirements regarding limitations of participants, as well as procedures for the application of animal cell-culture food tastings. With the introduction of the Code of Practice, the Netherlands is considered the first European country to permit animal cell-cultured food for tasting. It remains to be seen how this will play out in practice.
Singapore, a global leader in the field of alternative proteins, also has provided an opportunity for companies to conduct tastings of unassessed novel foods. Per Singapore Food Agency (SFA)’s official guideline, novel food companies can seek approval to conduct tastings on new alternative proteins by submitting an Application Form for SFA’s Administrative Exemption for the Tasting and Sensory Evaluation of Unassessed Novel Foods under specific controlled conditions, such as:
- Submitting the application eight weeks prior to the scheduled date of the tasting session
- Limiting the number of participants for tasting and ensuring food safety (e.g., providing information on the purpose of the tasting, as well as statement of compliance with SFA’s conditions with supporting evidence)
- Obtaining written acknowledgments from participants regarding the experimental nature of the tasting activity
- Maintaining traceability records
- Conducting tasting activities in appropriate locations, i.e., non-food service facilities specifically designed for sensory evaluation R&D
- Preparing for medical contingencies and promptly informing the SFA of any detected or reported adverse events within two weeks
More details on Singapore’s regulatory framework for novel foods can be found in Keller and Heckman’s newsletter: Singapore Updates Guidelines for the Safety Assessment of Novel Foods. Singapore recently revised its guidelines in July 2023, and we will soon publish an article discussing the primary modifications in this latest version. We are closely monitoring the global regulatory developments for alternative protein ingredients.
 Requirements for the Safety Assessment of Novel Foods and Novel Food Ingredients (Version dated 20 July 2023), available at: https://www.sfa.gov.sg/docs/default-source/food-information/requirements-for-the-safety-assessment-of-novel-foods-and-novel-food-ingredients.pdf