Lab-grown chicken approved for sale in the US

Customers can now choose between products from two startups, Good Meat, and Upside Foods. But it might be months before the chicken meat hits shelves.
Ameya Paleja
UPSIDE Foods' Cultivated Chicken.
UPSIDE Foods' Cultivated Chicken.

UPSIDE Foods  

In a landmark decision, the US Department of Agriculture(USDA) has approved the sale of lab-cultivated chicken in the country, making the USA the second country in the world to approve cultivated meat products. Earlier this year, Singapore cleared the regulatory hurdles for cell-cultured meat.

Unlike plant-based meats, cultivated meat is sourced from cells taken from the animal. The cells are fed media supplemented with all the necessary ingredients for growth in large tanks called bioreactors. When the cells are mature enough, they are harvested, where they appear like minced meat and can be used to make products such as burger patties, fillets, or sausages for human consumption.

About 100 companies worldwide are vying to bring in cultivated meat products but have found it difficult to replicate the flavor and appearance of beef. Growing chicken meat on the other hand is relatively cheaper and easier to mimic. Lab-grown chicken from two companies in the US were approved by the USDA on Wednesday.

The USDA approval

The USDA has approved products from two cultivated meat manufacturers, Good Meat, a subsidiary of Just Eat Inc., and Upside Foods. Earlier this year, Good Meat also received approvals for the sale of its products in Singapore, where it is featured on menus of fine dining establishments as well as hawker stalls.

The recent approval in the US follows a "no-questions" letter given by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a few months ago, certifying that the lab cultivated chicken was safe for human consumption.

Conventional meat producers have been lobbying to safeguard the use of the word "meat" for these products. While the agency is still in the process of drafting regulations for labeling these products, it has approved these products as "lab cultivate chicken". The USDA approval also enables the agency to inspect the meat-culturing facilities of these companies, much like it does for slaughterhouses and meat processing plants.

Both Upside Foods and Good Meat have received their first orders in the country from famous chefs in San Francisco and Washington D.C. respectively.

According to a press release from Upside Foods, the company will make its "market debut with a whole-textured chicken product that is over 99% cultivated chicken cells". Meanwhile, at Good Meat, production has begun for the first batch of cultivated chicken that will be sold to restaurateur Chef José Andrés.

Lab-grown chicken approved for sale in the US
How cultivated meat is produced in controlled conditions

Green light to scale up

With access to consumers in the world's largest economy, cultivated meat companies can now focus on scaling up their production facilities and lowering the costs of manufacturing.

Media used in cell culture is extremely expensive and increases the cost of the final product. Moreover, it can also contain products of animal origin, raising questions about the sustainability of production methods. As cultivated meat companies scale up, they need to also demonstrate that the purported benefits of their approach translate into real ones.

It might be at least a few months if not years before customers see cultivated chicken products regularly on retail shelves. Even then, these are expected to be a small fraction of the 300 million tons of meat consumed around the world.

The approval is definitely good news but there is a long way to go before it can cause a shift in human consumption.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board