Does Cell-based Have a Seat at the Table?

In an effort to tackle climate change and reduce the food production industry’s carbon footprint, alternative meat products have continued to grow in popularity. But does lab-grown meat really have a seat at the table? Our US team shares insight into regulatory developments and the future of cell-based protein.

Concerns about the climate continue to be a catalyst for product innovation in the food industry, particularly when it comes to protein sources. According to PETA, of all the agricultural land in the US, 80% is used to raise animals for food and grow grain to feed them, and almost half of all the water used goes to raising animals for food1.

“Alternative protein sources, such as those found in plant-based and vegan products, are continuing to be a popular choice for many looking to reduce their impact on the environment, reduce animal cruelty, and benefit from the perceived health benefits of consuming less or no meat at all.

What is Cell-based Meat?

Cell-based meat, otherwise known as “cultured meat”, or “lab-grown” meat, is when an animal cell is extracted from an animal and grown in a lab culture to create a piece of meat. In the six weeks it takes to grow a chicken for slaughter, the cell culture-based process produces the same amount of meat, minus the bones, feathers and other animal waste.

Is Cell-based Meat Available to Buy?

JUST Meat and Memphis Meats are two popular examples of companies growing cell-based meat, but no cell-based product has been released into the mass market.

In 2019, the FDA and USDA-FSIS agreed to establish a joint regulatory framework for human foods made from cultured cells of livestock and poultry, to ensure that any such products being brought to market are safe and truthfully labelled. Under this agreement, the FDA oversees cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth and differentiation. The FDA transitions oversight to the USDA during the harvesting stage of the cell-culturing process.

  • For those animals intended for human consumption and regulated under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) (i.e., cattle, sheep, swine, goats, and fish of the order Siluriformes) or the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA)(i.e. chicken, turkeys, duck, geese, guineas, ratites, and squab), USDA-FSIS is then responsible for regulation during processing
  • For foods made from the cultured cells of animals not regulated under the FMIA or PPIA or foods intended for animal consumption, the FDA is responsible for regulation during processing.


The agreement was widely welcomed by the cell-based meat industry, with the framework and shared regulatory effectively subjecting cultured meat to the same regulations as non-cell-based foods.

How Should Products Be Labelled?

Cell-based meat isn’t available for mass consumption yet, and there is no ‘standard’ term used across the industry. Phrases like “cell-based”, “lab-grown”, “cultured” and “clean” are all commonly used terms to describe the same process of extracting cells from animals to culture meat.

Traditional meat companies argue that the word “meat” should apply only to animal-raised protein. Whatever the future holds for the availability of cell-based meat, like any human food, labels should be accurate and not at all misleading to consumers.

Alternative meat products which are already accepted and available to buy, such as vegan and plant-based, adhere to specific FDA labelling requirements. The Ashbury team can support the entire compliance process for brands in this existing market, or exploring innovative opportunities in cell-based meat.

Is There a Future for Cell-based?

While cell-based meat isn’t available in mass to the public yet, the agreement between the FDA and USDA-FSIS points towards a future that includes cell-based meat in the range of alternative protein products.

With continued concern about the impact of food production on the environment, there will be an ongoing drive by consumers and the industry alike to find less harmful methods of production through product innovations and alternatives. These include insects and meat grown from cell cultures, rather than extracted from animals:

  • Insect Protein | A 2019 essay in The Regulatory Review explores the University of South Carolina School of Law’s Marie Boyd’s argument that FDA should update its regulatory framework to lead the way on insect consumption. She highlights several potential advantages from insect farming such as insect abundance, high nutritional quality, and environmentally friendly production. Boyd asserts that for the public to consume insects at a meaningful level, FDA should consider insects as food under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and provide regulatory oversight to ensure sanitation and safety.
  • Cell Cultures Vs. Extracted | Meat grown from cell cultures, rather than extracted from animals, is a “novel” food product which may soon be subject to regulatory scrutiny, suggests Amaru Sanchez. Sanchez proposes that while “the unique nature of the products” means there are few examples which could “serve as the baseline for regulatory oversight and risk assessment, the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act could provide bases for the USDA and FDA to regulate cell-cultured meat.


For more information about FDA labelling requirements or FDA ingredients labelling requirements, please contact a member of the team.

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