US approves sale of cell cultured hen to 2 start-ups

Chicken produced in a laboratory from chicken cells.

Terry Chea | AP

The US Department of Agriculture has approved the sale of cell-cultured chicken in a landmark decision that clears the path for consumers to try it out themselves, the two startups that received the first approvals said Wednesday.

Cultured meat, also known as cultivated, cell-based or lab-grown protein, is made by putting stem cells from the fat or muscle of an animal into a culture medium that feeds the cells, allowing them to grow. The medium is then put into a bioreactor to support the cells’ growth, creating an end product that looks and tastes like traditional meat.

Proponents of cultured meat say that it’s healthier and more environmentally friendly than traditional meat. Outside the US, only Singapore has cleared the sale of cell-cultured meat.

The USDA issued approval to Good Meat, a subsidiary of Eat Just, along with Upside Foods. Both companies had already received the go-ahead months earlier from the Food and Drug Administration, which said each company’s lab-grown chicken is safe for human consumption.

As a result of the decision, the USDA will inspect cultured meat facilities, just as they do traditional meat processing plants and slaughterhouses.

The meat produced by Upside Foods and Good Meat will be labeled as “cell-cultivated chicken” when sold to consumers.

Good Meat has also received approval to sell its cultured meat in Singapore, where it’s been available to consumers since December 2020.

“This announcement that we’re now able to produce and sell cultivated meat in the United States is a major moment for our company, the industry and the food system,” Eat Just CEO and co-founder Josh Tetrick said in a statement.

Good Meat’s manufacturing partner, Joinn Biologics, also received USDA approval to make the cultured meat.

Chef Jose Andres has placed the first order to sell Good Meat’s cultured chicken to serve it in an undisclosed Washington, DC restaurant, the company said.

Upside Foods has also received its first order for cultivated chicken already. Chef Dominique Crenn wants to serve it in a limited quantities at Bar Crenn in San Francisco.

“This approval will fundamentally change how meat makes it to our table,” Upside founder and CEO Uma Valeti said in a statement. “It’s a giant step forward towards a more sustainable future – one that preserves choice and life.”

As consumers’ interest in plant-based meat wanes, investors have instead been betting on the cultured meat industry. To date, Eat Just has raised $978.5 million, and Upside has raised $608.4 million, according to Pitchbook data.

Even armed with cash and regulatory approval, cultured meat startups face many hurdles before their products can become mainstream. Companies are trying to figure out how to create bioreactors massive enough to allow them to achieve scale, and the expensive media, the inputs that feeds cells, keep prices for the finished product very high.

On top of that, startups will have to convince consumers that they want to eat meat grown in a lab rather than on a farm.

But expectations are high for the industry, if it manages to overcome those obstacles. By 2030, McKinsey predicts that cultured meat could provide as much as half of 1% of the world’s meat supply, representing billions of pounds and $25 billion in sales.

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