Serving up the details on cell-based meat

Will cell-based meat be classified as a novel food? If so, what will this mean for producers and consumers?

By Kate Ayers
Staff Writer
Better Farming

Novel foods are foods “that have been produced through new processes, that do not have a history of safe use as a food, or that have been modified by genetic manipulation,” the Government of Canada website says.

Some examples of novel foods include

  • genetically modified corn
  • genetically altered soybeans
  • potatoes resistant to the Colorado Potato Beetle
  • Flavr Savr tomato
  • Clearfield canola

The Food Directorate of Health Canada has intensively reviewed these products and deemed them safe for use in Canada.

What is the regulatory process?

Health Canada needs to prove novel foods are safe and nutritious before they can be sold in Canada.

“Under the (Food and Drug) Regulations, the (novel food) developers need to provide Health Canada with a comprehensive suite of scientific data demonstrating product safety,” Rebecca Purdy, the senior media relations adviser for Health Canada, tells Better Farming.

The department then conducts a comprehensive science-based food safety assessment on the product.

“This assessment requires data on how the food was developed, a comparison of its compositional and nutritional profile with conventional counterparts, and the potential for the food to be toxic or to contain a toxin or allergen,” she says.

Scientist Looking into Microscope
    Likoper/iStock/Getty Images Plus photo

“After a company submits detailed scientific data for review, Health Canada’s Food Directorate scientists – experts in molecular biology, microbiology, toxicology, chemistry and nutrition – rigorously assess whether the novel food meets Canadian and international standards, and is totally safe to use,” the website says.

Advances in transportation technology, new techniques for food preservation and processing, and genetic modifications to plants and animals have changed our food supply.

However, the federal government must consider the human health impacts of new processes and genetic modifications before any new products reach the market, the website says.

Indeed, Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) jointly regulate novel foods.

Health Canada establishes standards and policies governing the safety and nutritional quality of foods. The department also develops labelling policies related to health and nutrition. The CFIA develops standards related to the packaging, labelling and advertising of foods, the website says.

More details on the submission and inspection processes for novel foods can be found on Health Canada’s website.

Where does cell-based meat fit in?

Canada does not yet have a regulatory regime for cell-based meat products but they could be classified as a novel food.

“Until Health Canada receives an application that includes specific information about how a cultured meat product is developed, the department cannot confirm with certainty that it would be considered a novel food,” Purdy says.

Regardless of its classification, cell-based meat will be held to the same standards as conventional meat in Canada.

“If the department assessed a cultured meat product and determined it to be safe for human consumption, it would remain subject to the same regulations as any other meat product on the Canadian market,” she adds. BF

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