FDA approves the sale of the first lab-grown meat in the US

The clearance is only for one provider and isn't a full approval to sell the product in the market.
Ameya Paleja
Lab-grown meat stock image.
Lab-grown meat stock image.


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. has now cleared cultivated meat for human consumption, a press release from the agency said. The clearance was given after the health agency engaged in a pre-market consultation with a provider, UPSIDE foods, formerly Memphis Meats, and has found no further questions regarding the product's safety.

Berkeley, California-based UPSIDE Foods was founded in 2015 and is working on using cell culture to produce lab-grown chicken meat. Apart from UPSIDE Foods, there are scores of companies that have taken this approach to meet the demand for animal meat in the market without slaughtering them.

How can meat be cultivated?

To grow meat in the lab, cells are first isolated from animals without killing them and developed into cell lines that can be frozen for long-term storage. A small sample of cells from these cell lines can then be withdrawn and transferred to large steel tanks, referred to as bioreactors, which have all the necessary nutrients and conditions needed for cells to grow and multiply in numbers.

When the cells reach a certain age and form, they are harvested to make meat products for consumption. Unlike plant-based meats, which are sourced from plant components and made to appear and feel like real meat, cultured meat is 100 percent animal tissue but without having to grow the animal completely and slaughtering involved.

Startups in this space have built small-scale production facilities so far to test out their products as well as processes. These facilities also help them demonstrate to regulators like the FDA that their products and processes follow the safety requirements.

What is needed for full approval?

As elaborated in the press release, the FDA has only cleared the product from UPSIDE Foods, and the clearance does not mean blanket approval for all cultivated meat. The agency has encouraged other providers of these products to get in touch early on in their product development process and prior to seeking approvals for public sale.

Further, the press release also added that post the FDA's clearance, the manufacturer of cultivated meat will also need to seek the nod of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which will inspect the manufacturing facility for food safety requirements. Additionally, the product itself will require a mark of inspection from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), and the FDA is coordinating with the other federal agency to ensure necessary regulation as well as labeling of these products.

Although this is a landmark decision, the technology is still years away from replacing animal meat on our plates. According to a Wired report, the cost of growing meat this way is very high, and even large-scale facilities would find it difficult to compete with the economics of conventional meat sources today.

Speaking to Wired, CEO of UPSIDE Foods, Uma Valeti, acknowledged that the cultivated meat industry is still in its infancy, and it may be another 15 years before it achieves scalability and can reach people in most parts of the world.

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