The United States has granted its first-ever approvals to two companies to sell chicken that is grown directly from animal cells, making it the second country to allow lab-grown meat to be offered to consumers.
According to a spokesperson for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the food safety systems at Upside Foods and Good Meat facilities have been approved, and the companies have announced that their products will soon be available at select restaurants.
Both Upside Foods and Good Meat received safety clearances from the Food and Drug Administration in November. Last week, their product labels were reviewed and approved by the USDA to ensure they were not misleading.
“This approval will revolutionize the way meat reaches our tables,” stated Uma Valeti, CEO and founder of Upside Foods.
“It’s a significant step forward towards a more sustainable future that preserves choice and life.”
Josh Tetrick, CEO of Good Meat, the cell-cultured food division of Eat Just, added that their “cultivated meat” is now “approved for sale to consumers in the world’s largest economy.”
Producing lab-grown meat in large, high-quality volumes is expensive. However, following the approval, Upside Foods processed its first order, which was placed by the restaurant Bar Crenn in San Francisco, owned by three-Michelin-star Chef Dominique Crenn.
Good Meat has also begun production of its first batch, which will be sold to celebrity chef and philanthropist Jose Andres. Andres plans to sell the product at an undisclosed restaurant in Washington, D.C.
Several start-ups are focused on producing lab-grown meat, which would allow humans to consume animal protein without the environmental harms associated with traditional farming or animal suffering.
Lab-grown meat products are different from plant-based substitutes like soy burgers that imitate the texture and flavor of meat but do not contain any animal protein.
In 2020, Eat Just became the first company to receive authorization to produce lab-grown meat in Singapore.
While succeeding in the general lab-grown meat market has proven challenging, some companies are targeting the pet food industry, where consumers are less selective.
Bond Pet Foods, a Colorado start-up, is creating animal protein from a microbial fermentation process specifically for dog food.
Eco-friendly? Not necessarily
Lab-grown meat involves initially harvesting cells from a living animal or a fertilized egg, creating a cell bank that can be stored for decades in deep freeze. These cells are then cultivated in steel tanks and fed nutrients similar to those animals would consume.
After a few weeks, the final product is “harvested” from the tank and shaped into forms such as chicken fillets or satay.
While lab-grown meat has been promoted as an environmentally friendly alternative, a recent study from the University of California, Davis, which has not yet undergone peer review, challenges this assumption.
The researchers found that cultivated meat’s environmental impact is likely to be significantly higher, at least in the case of beef, due to the energy required and greenhouse gas emissions throughout the production process.
One of the main factors contributing to the higher environmental impact is the use of “purified growth media” or the ingredients used to help animal cells multiply, similar to those employed by biotechnology companies for pharmaceutical production.
“If companies have to purify growth media to pharmaceutical levels, it consumes more resources, leading to an increase in global warming potential,” explained lead author Derrick Risner.
A widely reported 2022 survey conducted by the nonprofit organization Farm Forward, involving 2,000 US adults, found that two-thirds of respondents stated they would be willing to consume cultivated-meat products.