1st lab-grown meat product cleared for human consumption in the U.S.

A fried chicken sandwich made with Upside Food's lab-grown chicken. Upside Foods

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared its first ever lab-grown meat product as safe for human consumption, the agency announced Wednesday. The product is a “slaughter-free” chicken, grown from cultured cells, which could be rolled out to the public in a matter of months.

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Upside Foods is the company behind the cell-cultured chicken, which is grown in a process that the New York Times says is “often compared to brewing beer.” Animal cells are grown in controlled environments within stainless-steel tanks, creating a product that — should be — biologically identical to conventional meat.

Inside the cultivation room at Upside Foods, where animal cells are grown in to cultivated meats. Upside Foods

The FDA announced it had “no further questions” about the product’s safety, meaning that Upside’s lab-grown chicken is one step closer to reaching U.S. consumers. The review is not technically an approval and applies only to Upside products, though the agency is ready to work with other firms developing cultured-animal-cell food, the FDA said in a release.

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The next step for Upside is to have their production plants inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), who will then approve a label for the finished lab-grown meat product. USDA and FDA together regulate cell-cultured meat under a 2019 agreement between the two agencies.

Experts say that getting clearance from the FDA was the biggest hurdle for Upside’s “chicken,” and they expect the meat product to receive confirmation from the USDA in the coming months, the New York Times reported. Upside told the outlet that it plans to offer its chicken product in restaurants first before making it available on grocery store shelves.

A chicken salad made with Upside’s lab-grown chicken. Upside Foods

So far, lab-grown meat has received regulatory approval only in Singapore, where a cultivated chicken product from Good Meat was approved in 2020.

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“The world is experiencing a food revolution and the (FDA) is committed to supporting innovation in the food supply,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf and Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in a statement.

“We are thrilled at FDA’s announcement,” said David Kay, Upside’s director of communications, in an email. “This historic step paves the way for our path to market.”

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Demand for alternatives to farmed meat has grown alongside awareness of the high greenhouse gas emissions of raising livestock, not to mention the treatment of various animals raised in cages or other restricted environments strictly for food production.

Cultivated chicken was even served to attendees at this year’s COP27 climate conference in Egypt.

Still, critics question if people will be willing to eat meat that was made in a lab and whether it will be affordable for the everyday person.

— With files from Reuters


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