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 chicken grown by Emeryville-based Upside Foods is safe to eat is likely to open its doors in the United States in the coming months.
The alternative meat fever has cooled off. Here because.
Upside Foods, formerly known as Memphis Meats, is harvesting cells from viable animal tissue and growing edible meat under controlled conditions in bioreactors, meat the company says will be identical to conventionally raised meat. Alternatives to traditional animal agriculture are seen as a way to mitigate climate change and were 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 accept this form of meat. Despite the money and hopes invested in realistic simulated meat products like Beyond and Impossible, made with plant proteins, the market for these alternative meat products has cooled off. High prices will also pose a challenge to widespread adoption, experts say.
However, promoters of cultured meat say it has huge potential.
“We will see this as the day 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 that has endorsed this. It’s seismic and it’s game-changing.”
Wednesday’s ad takes cultured meat, also called cell-grown meat, one step closer to the dinner plates of Americans, but there are still hurdles to widespread availability. Upside’s chicken production technology is transferable to multiple animal species, Yiannoulis said, but each product will need to be approved by federal regulators before it can be brought to market. Upside estimates that after approval from the Department of Agriculture, it will still be months before its chicken can be on the market.
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“It will have to be case by case, certainly for the former. It won’t be a standard approval,” Yiannoulis said. However, the approval signals the agency may soon approving products from several cultured meat startups that have sought regulatory approval since 2018, he said.
The cultured meat industry has grown to more than 151 companies on six continents, backed by more than $2.6 billion in investments, according to the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit group that promotes alternatives to traditional meat. However, initial production costs can make products prohibitively expensive.
“It’s actually difficult to create a reasonable facsimile 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 sooner or later it will be done. But it will never be done with anything remotely like the economy you need for food.
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If lab meats can replicate the taste and texture of traditional meats — at a similar or lower cost and with fewer disadvantages — it could be a game-changer for global nutrition, many experts they said. The Stockholm Environment Institute recently released a report which found that animal-based food production is responsible for as much as 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions and that if meat consumption continues along current trends, it will be impossible to maintain global warming below the target of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“This is a major milestone towards the future of food. Cultured meat will soon be available to consumers in the United States who want their favorite foods to be made more sustainably, with production that requires a fraction of the land and water of conventional meat when produced at scale,” he said. said Bruce Friedrich, president of the Good Food Institute.
However, not everyone is convinced that the public will adopt this new technology.
“The FDA is using the same regulatory review process as biotech crops, which has not led to widespread consumer confidence or universal market acceptance,” said Gregory Jaffe, biotech project director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Regulation of lab-grown meat in the United States is done in cooperation between the FDA and the USDA. Under a formal agreement in March 2019, both agencies agreed to a joint regulatory framework in which the FDA oversees cell harvesting, cell banking, and cell growth and differentiation. And then the USDA will oversee the processing and labeling of human food products derived from livestock and poultry cells.
Every company that makes these products must get approval from each agency, whether or not it follows the same manufacturing method as a company that has received approval, the USDA said in a statement. Companies that want to produce these products commercially must also apply for an inspection grant from the USDA, and the facilities will be subject to the same food safety, sanitation and inspection regulations as other meat and poultry products. The exception is cultured seafood, which only requires FDA approval.
The FDA said in a statement that it is already engaged in discussions with several companies about various types of cultured animal cell products, including those made from seafood cells, and that the FDA is ready to work with other companies. who develop foods based on animal cells in culture and production processes.