Study reveals best label for seafood grown from cells

Tuesday, 04 August, 2020

Study reveals best label for seafood grown from cells

A Rutgers study published in the Journal of Food Science has stated that companies seeking to commercialise seafood products made from the cells of fish or shellfish should use the term ‘cell-based’ on product labels. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture require food products to have a ‘common or usual name’ on their labels, to enable consumers to make informed purchasing decisions.

The study by William Hallman, a professor at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University, evaluated what name should be used on labels for seafood products to best meet both regulatory and consumer acceptance criteria. Findings suggested that ‘cell-based’ is the best name to meet FDA regulations and consumer acceptance of these novel products.

“The participants were able to tell that ‘cell-based seafood’ products were different from ‘wild caught’ and ‘farm raised’ products, but viewed them as equally nutritious and were just as interested in tasting and purchasing them,” Hallman said.

While demand for seafood increases, the global supply is vulnerable and cannot keep pace. Producing just the parts of fish that people eat rather than catching or raising them whole, cell-based seafood products are expected to offer a healthy, sustainable alternative that will look, cook and taste the same as conventional seafood. Cell-based seafood products will also have the same nutritional qualities and health benefits as farmed and wild caught seafood, but will be free of mercury, microplastics and other environmental contaminants.

In the study, 3186 consumers evaluated one of seven potential names as well as ‘wild caught’ and ‘farm raised’, shown on images of realistic packages of salmon, tuna or shrimp. The names tested were, ‘cell-based seafood’, ‘cell-cultured seafood’, ‘cultivated seafood’, ‘cultured seafood’, and the phrases ‘produced using cellular aquaculture’, ‘cultivated from the cells of ___’, and ‘grown directly from the cells of ___’.

Under FDA regulations, a common or usual name must distinguish a new product type from those with which consumers are already familiar. For cell-based seafood, this means choosing a name that signals to consumers that the product is different from wild caught and farm raised seafood. As the products have the same proteins as conventional fish and shellfish, their name needs to signal that people allergic to seafood shouldn’t eat the product.

The study stipulates that the name must be seen by consumers as an appropriate term to identify the product, and that it not disparage cell-based or conventional products, which excluded terms such as ‘lab-grown’, ‘synthetic’, ‘slaughter-free’ and ‘cruelty-free’. The study revealed that terms with the word ‘cell’, including ‘cell-based’ and ‘cell-cultured’ were best, helping customers understand that the products are neither farm raised nor wild caught.

The terms ‘cell-based’ and ‘cell-cultured’ were not significantly different on most key measures, making ‘cell-cultured’ a potentially viable name. Consumers viewed both as appropriate to identify the product, and signal to people allergic to seafood that they should not eat the products. Products labelled ‘cell-based’ were seen as equally desirable as ‘wild caught’ and ‘farm raised’ products, while those labelled ‘cell-cultured’ were not, suggesting that ‘cell-based seafood’ is the better name to appear on products.

Image credit: William Hallman/Rutgers University-New Brunswick

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