Lab-grown meat: US regulator makes landmark decision

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The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has declared a lab-grown meat product safe for human consumption, making it the first to receive the regulator’s preliminary approval.

The FDA explained in a statement released on Wednesday that it had discovered no safety issues with manufacturer Upside Foods’ manufacturing process, but that this did not mean the “cultivated chicken” product could be sold on the open market just yet.

The FDA revealed that the unnamed product, made by Upside Foods, uses “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.” According to another memo, the finished product is “a coherent tissue of chicken (Gallus gallus) cells, similar in composition and nutritional characteristics to conventional poultry products.”

According to FDA documentation, the end product is intended to resemble chicken, but its origin materials may include “materials of bovine or porcine origin… in addition to cell culture media, media components, and antibiotics and antimycotics.” Upside Foods claims that its cow ingredients come from disease-free or risk-free herds, and its pig ingredients are tested for “porcine viruses that could survive in human cells.”

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The company acknowledges potential “unintended consequences of genetic engineering,” as well as possible contamination with microorganisms or zoonotic viruses, as potential hazards inherent in the manufacturing process, but assures the FDA that testing for these is in place. It claims that Upside’s chicken is “as safe as conventional poultry meat from a chicken carcass.”

While the lab-grown chicken meat must be approved by the US Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety and Inspection Service before it can be sold in the US, CEO Uma Valeti hails the FDA announcement as a victory, calling it “a watershed moment in the history of food.”

Founded in 2015 as Memphis Meats, the company has received massive funding from billionaires such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Virgin founder Richard Branson, as well as Kimbal Musk, brother of the world’s richest man Elon Musk. Last year, it rebranded as Upside.

The company opened its California production facility in 2021, telling media that once regulatory approval is obtained, the plant will be capable of producing 50,000 pounds of its cultivated chicken annually. According to chief operating officer Amy Chen, Upside eventually hopes to produce 400,000 pounds of chicken per year.