The Food and Drug Administration has cleared a California company’s “no-slaughter” chicken, bringing lab-grown meat closer to restaurant menus and grocery store shelves in the United States.
On Wednesday afternoon, the agency said it had completed an assessment of chicken from the company Upside Foods and had “no further questions” about the safety of the product, noting that the agency considers it to be safe for consumption. It will likely take months or even longer for the product to reach consumers, and it must first obtain additional clearance from the Department of Agriculture.
“That’s huge for the industry,” said Liz Specht, vice president of science and technology at the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit focused on cell- and plant-based meat. “For the first time ever, the FDA is giving the green light to a cultured meat product.”
For nearly a decade, companies have been competing to bring the world’s first lab-grown meat (or “cultured” meat, the term around which the industry has recently rallied) to market. In a process often compared to brewing beer, animal cells are grown in a controlled environment, creating a product biologically identical to conventional meat. But so far, cultured meat has only received regulatory approval in Singapore, where Good Meat’s lab-grown chicken was given the green light in 2020.
Dr Uma Valeti, founder and managing director of Upside Foods, said he was traveling to India for his father’s memorial service when he received news from an employee, who he said had promised not to don’t call her unless it’s important.
“I don’t think I’m going to sleep anytime soon,” he said in an interview at 2:30 a.m. local time.
Dr. Valeti, a cardiologist, said he had the idea to create cell culture meat after using stem cells to repair patients’ hearts. He quit his job, moved to California and founded the company, formerly known as Memphis Meats, in 2015. The company has attracted top investors including Tyson Foods.
The news came as a surprise, Dr. Valeti said, because Upside Foods had been working for many years to get the green light. The next step is for the Ministry of Agriculture to develop an inspection process for the company’s production plants and approve a label for the finished product. Industry experts said Food and Drug Administration clearance was the biggest hurdle for products seeking commercialization and they expected the chicken to receive confirmation from the Department of Health. Agriculture in the coming months.
The Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service declined to share a timeline. “Meat and poultry products derived from cell cultures will be subject to the same food safety, hygiene and inspection regulations as other meat and poultry products to ensure that only safe and wholesome products enter in the US market,” he said in a statement.
Upside Foods said it plans to offer the chicken in restaurants first before expanding to grocery stores.
The cultured meat industry has received considerable attention and investment in recent years amid growing concerns about global warming, animal treatment and factory farming. Lab-grown meat is seen as a more sustainable option compared to the traditional livestock sector, which accounts for almost a sixth of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Still, critics point to lingering questions surrounding the industry, and there’s uncertainty over whether people will be willing to eat lab-made meat, especially given consumer reluctance to other technological advances in the past, such as genetically modified foods. . Affordability also remains uncertain, though prices have certainly come down since the first grown burger was created in 2013 for over $300,000.
The Food and Drug Administration’s decision could also pave the way for additional approvals in the United States and abroad. “It sets a precedent,” Dr. Specht said. “Now we’re really focusing on what really matters in this industry, which is scaling.”
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