Dozens of major food companies are scrambling to introduce cultured meat to the American public. As of now, Singapore is the only country where these products are legally sold to consumers. The FDA’s announcement that cultured chicken from Emeryville-based Upside Foods is safe to eat is likely to open the floodgates in the United States in the coming months.
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Upside Foods, formerly known as Memphis Meats, harvests cells from viable animal tissues and grows edible meat under controlled conditions in bioreactors, meat that the company says will be identical to that grown conventionally. Alternatives to traditional livestock farming are seen as a way to combat climate change and have been a major topic of discussion this week at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
The question remains whether consumers will embrace this form of meat. Despite the money and hope invested in realistic counterfeit meat products like Beyond and Impossible, which are made with plant-based proteins, the market for these alternative meat products has cooled. High prices will also challenge widespread adoption, experts say.
Still, cultured meat advocates say it has enormous potential.
“We will see this as the day when the food system really started to change,” said Costa Yiannoulis, managing partner at Synthesis Capital, the world’s largest food technology fund. “The US is the first significant market to have approved this – this is seismic and groundbreaking.”
Wednesday’s announcement takes cultured meat, also known as cell cultured meat, one step closer to American dinner plates, but there are still hurdles to widespread availability. Upside’s chicken production technology is transferable to multiple animal species, Yiannoulis said, but each product must be approved by federal regulators before it can be marketed. Upside estimates that after approval from the Department of Agriculture, it would be months before the chicken could reach the market.
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“It will have to be case by case, especially for the first few. It won’t be a standard approval,” Yiannoulis said. Nevertheless, the approval indicates that the agency will soon be allowed approve the products of several cultured meat start-ups that have applied for regulatory approval since 2018, he said.
According to the Good Food Institute, a non-profit organization that promotes alternatives to traditional meat, the cultured meat industry has grown to more than 151 companies on six continents, backed by more than $2.6 billion in investment. Still, the initial production costs can make products unaffordable.
“It’s actually difficult to make a reasonable copy of animal tissue from cultured cells,” Pat Brown, founder of plant-based Impossible Foods, told The Washington Post last year. “Theoretically it is doable, and there is no doubt that it will be done one day. But it will never be done with something like the economy you need for food.
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If lab meat can mimic the taste and texture of traditional meat — at a similar or lower cost and with fewer drawbacks — it could be a game changer for global nutrition, many experts say have said. The Stockholm Environment Institute recently released a report finding that animal food production is responsible for as much as 20 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, and that if meat consumption continues at current trends, it will be impossible to reverse global warming. of the earth below the limit. target of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“This is a critical milestone toward the future of food. Cultured meat will soon be available to consumers in the US who want their favorite foods made more sustainably, with production requiring a fraction of the land and water of conventional meat when produced on a large scale,” said Bruce Friedrich, president of the Good Food Institute.
However, not everyone is convinced that the public will adopt this new technology.
“The FDA uses the same regulatory review process as biotech crops, which has not led to widespread consumer confidence or universal market acceptance,” said Gregory Jaffe, biotechnology project director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The regulation of lab-grown meat in the United States is done in collaboration between the FDA and USDA. Under a formal agreement dated March 2019, both agencies agreed on a joint regulatory framework in which the FDA oversees cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth and differentiation. And then the USDA will oversee the processing and labeling of human food products derived from the cells of livestock and poultry.
Any company making these products must receive approval from any agency, whether or not they follow the same manufacturing method as a company that has received approval, the USDA said in a statement. Companies wishing to commercially produce these products must also apply for an inspection grant from the USDA, and facilities will be subject to the same food safety, sanitation and inspection requirements as other meat and poultry products. The exception is farmed seafood, which only requires FDA approval.
The FDA said in a statement it is already in discussions with multiple companies about various types of products made from cultured animal cells, including those made from seafood cells, and that the FDA is ready to work with other companies developing cultured animal cell foods and production processes.