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Synthetic food: EFSA opinion awaited

Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow a round table in the presence of industry experts

A two-day scientific roundtable to gather views and food for thought from leading scientific personalities, representatives of European, international and national agencies, technology companies and food business operators, consumer groups and a range of stakeholders and other bodies interested in the topic of food grown in a laboratory. This is what was launched by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which thus intends "to make sure that it takes note of all the most recent scientific developments connected to risk assessment in order to be able to define the standards on which to evaluate the safety of these new technologies food, involving producers and, in general, society".

Among the experts involved in the debate scheduled for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, is Ramiro Alberio , professor of developmental biology at the University of Nottingham, who explains: Cell and tissue engineering allows the cultivation of cells and tissues separately from an entire organism. For example, starting from only a few cells sourced from a muscle or another organ, these cells can be grown under controlled conditions without the other parts of the organ". "Cellular engineering is already being used in medicine to regenerate tissues or replace damaged or diseased cells - he continues -. The technologies are advanced now and could be applied in other areas, such as the agri-food sector. The science behind this technology is constantly evolving and increases the range of potential food applications."

As for the safety of new food grown in the laboratory, "So far EFSA has not been asked to evaluate", therefore, explains Wolfgang Gelbmann, scientific director of the agency, the body's experts have "assessed several novel food ingredients produced through precision fermentation. We expect to receive novel food applications on cell-culture derived foods in the coming months and years. So, we are keeping pace with the science to stay prepared when such applications arrive". Decisions on the marketing authorization of novel foods and labeling requirements are the responsibility of the EU regulatory bodies, i.e. the European Commission together with the EU Member States. Safety for consumers is also a priority for regulators, but they can also take into account economic, animal welfare, social and/or other aspects in their decisions.

The Commission has already stated that cell culture technology can help achieve the goals of the EU's farm to fork strategy for fair, safe, wholesome and environmentally sustainable food systems. Technologies are advanced, but the ability to produce and market these foods will only increase if producers believe that the products have a future.

Ultimately, the consumers will decide. In this regard, "perceiving foods or food technologies as natural is a crucial factor for consumers - says Michael Siegrist , coordinator of the research group of the ETH Zurich on food and consumer behavior -. If both are perceived as unnatural, usually consumers are unlikely to accept them. Cell-derived meat is a good example of this. Many studies show that participants are unwilling to even taste it".

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EFA News - European Food Agency