Dozens of major food companies are scrambling to introduce cultured meat to the American public. Currently, Singapore is the only country in which these products are legally sold to consumers. The FDA’s announcement that cultured chicken from Emeryville-based Upside Foods is safe to eat is likely to open the floodgates in the United States in the coming months.
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Upside Foods, formerly known as Memphis Meats, harvests cells from viable animal tissue and grows edible flesh under controlled conditions in bioreactors, which the company says will be identical to that raised conventionally. . Alternatives to traditional animal agriculture are seen as a way to mitigate climate change and have been a major talking point this week at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
Whether consumers will adopt this form of meat remains to be seen. Despite the money and hopes invested in realistic simulated meat products such as Beyond and Impossible, which are made from plant-based proteins, the market for these alternative meat products has cooled. High prices will also pose a challenge for widespread adoption, experts say.
Still, proponents of cultured meat say it has enormous potential.
“We will see this as the day when the food system really started to change,” said Costa Yiannoulis, managing partner of Synthesis Capital, the world’s largest food technology fund. “The United States is the first significant market to have approved this – it’s seismic and groundbreaking.”
Wednesday’s announcement takes cultured meat, also called cell culture meat, a step closer to Americans’ dinner plates, but there are still hurdles to widespread availability. Upside’s chicken production technology is transferable to multiple animal species, Yiannoulis said, but each product will need to be approved by federal regulators before it can go to market. Upside estimates that after approval from the Ministry of Agriculture, it would still be months before its chicken could be on the market.
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“It will have to be case by case, certainly for the first. It won’t be a boilerplate endorsement,” Yiannoulis said. Still, the approval signals that the agency could soon endorse the products of several cultured meat start-ups that have been seeking regulatory approval since 2018, he said.
The cultured meat industry has more than 151 companies on six continents, backed by more than $2.6 billion in investments, according to the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit group that promotes alternatives to traditional meat. . Yet, the initial costs of production can make the products prohibitively expensive.
“It’s actually hard to make a reasonable facsimile of animal tissue from cultured cells,” Pat Brown, founder of plant-based Impossible Foods, told The Washington Post last year. “Theoretically it’s doable, and there’s no doubt it will happen at some point. But that will never happen with anything far away like the economy you need to feed yourself.
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If lab-grown meats can replicate the taste and texture of traditional meat — at a similar or lower cost and with fewer inconveniences — it could be a game-changer for global nutrition, many experts say. said. The Stockholm Environment Institute recently published a report which found that animal food production was responsible for 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions, and that if meat consumption continues on current trends, it will be impossible to keep global warming below the target level of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“This is a crucial step towards the future of food. Cultured meat will soon be available to American consumers who want their favorite foods to be made more sustainably, with production requiring a fraction of the land and water of conventional meat when produced at scale,” said Bruce Friedrich, president of the Good Food Institute.
However, not everyone is convinced that the public will embrace this new technology.
“The FDA uses the same regulatory review process as biotech crops, which has not resulted in widespread consumer trust or universal market acceptance,” said Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology project director at the Center. for Science in the Public Interest.
The regulation of laboratory-grown meat in the United States is done collaboratively between the FDA and USDA. As part of a formal March 2019 agreement, the two agencies agreed to a common regulatory framework in which the FDA oversees cell collection, cell banking, and cell growth and differentiation. And then the USDA will oversee the processing and labeling of human food products derived from livestock and poultry cells.
Every company that makes these products must obtain approval from every agency, whether or not it follows the same production method as a company that has received approval, the USDA said in a statement. Companies wishing to produce these products for commercial purposes must also apply for a USDA inspection grant, and the facilities will be subject to the same food safety, sanitation, and inspection regulations as other products to meat and poultry base. The exception is cultured seafood, which only requires FDA approval.
The FDA said in a statement that it is already engaged in discussions with several companies about various types of products made from cultured animal cells, including those made from seafood cells, and that the FDA is willing to work with other companies developing cultured animal cell foods and manufacturing processes.
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