After many years of research and development, innovation and anticipation, lab-grown meat has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency gave approval to San Francisco-based startup UPSIDE Foods to sell its lab-grown chicken, deeming it safe to eat.
The lab-grown meat was approved through the FDA’s “generally recognized as safe” process, or GRAS, in which the FDA reviews a food company’s production process and final product and gives it a “no further questions” letter if it’s deemed safe to consume.
“We evaluated the information Upside Foods submitted to the agency and have no further questions at this time about the firm’s safety conclusion,” the FDA announced in a statement Wednesday. “The firm will use animal cell culture technology to take living cells from chickens and grow the cells in a controlled environment to make the cultured animal cell food.”
The product — which is biologically indistinguishable from traditional chicken — is made by growing animal cells in bioreactors, which are fed a mix of nutrients to develop into fat and muscle tissue. Though the company still needs US Department of Agriculture (USDA) approval before it can sell to consumers, it’s a watershed moment for the lab-grown meat space and the broader food industry.
UPSIDE Foods said in a press release that it will be working with the USDA to finalize the approval process before it can finally be commercialized. If granted USDA approval, their chicken will likely first be sold in small quantities at Atelier Crenn, a restaurant run by Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn, who announced a partnership with UPSIDE Foods late last year.
While UPSIDE Foods awaits approval, some 100 startups around the world are working to get lab-grown meat out of the lab and into small production facilities as they also gear up for regulatory approval. But their offerings are wholly distinct from the vast array of plant-based meat products already on the market, like those from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, which are made with plant ingredients like soy, wheat, peas, beans, starches and oil.
Cultivated meat, on the other hand, is real meat, but made without slaughtering or harming any animals. But despite the pending US regulatory approval and roundup of startups that are willing and able to produce, consumers won’t find lab-grown meat on grocery store shelves or fast-food menus anytime soon — it’s still highly expensive to produce.
Many startups have claimed they’ve been able to produce lab-grown meat it at a fraction of that cost, but estimates range from the tens of thousands of dollars per pound in the late 2010s down to thousands or hundreds of dollars per pound in the last few years, according to Good Seed Ventures, a sustainable food investment company.
While a lab-grown meat approval is a momentous occasion in the US, another country has been selling it for several years. In late 2020, Singapore became the first country to approve the sale of lab-grown meat, also a chicken product. The cultured chicken is made by the US-based startup Eat Just, and has been sold at a loss in small quantities at a high-end restaurant, a hotel and through a food delivery service in the country.