A new report from the environmental group Friends of the Earth raises questions about whether sufficient research has been done on lab-grown meat and other products to determine their safety.
The report said the federal government should be exercising more regulatory oversight of lab-grown meat and requiring transparent labeling of these products.
Dana Perls, the report's author and FOE's senior food and technology campaigner, told Bloomberg that real data are needed about the safety, content and processes behind lab-grown meat. "People have been clear that they want real, truly sustainable organic food, as opposed to venture capitalist hype which could lead us down the wrong path," she said.
Friends of the Earth and similar groups often support new technology designed to enhance sustainability and conserve water and land, so the group's report comes as a bit of a surprise. But, as the report noted, lab-grown meat manufacturers, along with producers of non-animal dairy products, can still use a lot of resources, energy and water to make their engineered substances.
Marketing and advertising promotions call these lab-grown products "clean meat," "plant-based," "animal-free" and "climate-friendly," yet, FOE said in the report, the substantiation for these claims is questionable. The group singled out heme, the plant-based ingredient made from genetically engineered yeast, which gives Impossible Foods' Impossible Burger its meat-like taste and blood-like color. Also mentioned in the report were Memphis Meats' lab-cultured meat and poultry — in which both Tyson Foods and Cargill have invested — Finless Foods' algae-based shrimp using genetically engineered algae, Geltor's gelatin replacement, Clara Foods' egg white replacement and Perfect Day's milk replacement.
The heme issue highlights what can happen when high-tech foods backed by venture capital firms and private investors run into government food regulations. Innovators want to get their products to market to respond to consumer demand for more sustainable foods with less impact on animals, climate, water and land — but the bureaucracy hasn't always caught up.
FDA has raised concerns about whether the heme ingredient in the Impossible Burger is safe — there have been claims that it could be carcinogenic — and the company submitted safety tests last year to prove it even though the product has been on the market since 2016. The agency recently extended its review of that safety data and is now scheduled to release a response this month.