The Department of Agriculture approved the production and sale of lab-grown meat for the first time on Wednesday, paving the way for two California companies to sell chicken produced from animal cells.
It will likely be years before shoppers can buy lab-produced meat in grocery stores. But the government’s decision will eventually allow lab-produced meat to be sold across state lines after passing federal inspections.
The decision is a milestone for companies that make cell-cultured meat, along with consumers looking for alternatives to factory-farmed and slaughtered chickens.
Supporters of alternative proteins along with the companies that sought federal approval, Upside Foods and Good Meat, hailed the news as pivotal for the meat industry and the broader food system at a time of growing concern about the environmental impact of production. of meat and its treatment of animals
“This approval will fundamentally change the way meat reaches our table,” Dr. Uma Valeti, CEO and founder of Upside Foods, said in a statement. “It is a big step forward towards a more sustainable future, one that preserves choice and life.”
The decision will make the United States the second country in the world, after Singapore, to authorize the production and sale of lab-grown meat. Bruce Friedrich, president of the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit focused on cell- and plant-based meat, said the US approval, and many governments will now follow.
Supporters of cultured meat say the product fares better for the environment, food safety and animal welfare. But skeptics are wary of the scientific and safety risks and say the purported environmental benefits are unproven. Difficulties remain on how to increase output for mass consumption.
About 100 companies around the world, including dozens in the United States, focus on cultured meat production, according to Mr. Friedrich. The industry was valued at about $247 million in 2022, according to market research firm Grand View Research, and could grow to $25 billion by 2030, consultancy McKinsey & Company projected.
Lab-grown meat begins with cells taken from an animal. Those cells are then fed with water, salt, and nutrients like amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. The cells are then multiplied in large tanks called cultivators or bioreactors. When harvested, the product is essentially ground meat, which is then processed into patties, sausages, or steaks. The meat does not contain bones, feathers, beaks or hooves and does not need to be slaughtered.
Upside Foods and Good Meat declined to elaborate on its current production capacity, but Dr. Valeti said last year that the company will eventually grow to “tens of millions of pounds of product.”
That’s chicken feed compared to the more than 300 million tons of meat consumed worldwide, a number that is expected to rise.
Both companies will begin selling chicken to American consumers through partner restaurants: Upside Foods at Bar Crenn in San Francisco and Good Meat at an undisclosed location operated by chef José Andrés in Washington. The model allows for both consumer education and feedback, company spokesmen said.
After the initial trial, both companies also anticipate increasing production and expanding into other types of meat. (Beef, with its higher fat content and more complex flavor, is harder to replicate.)
Still, questions remain about the regulatory framework around cultured meat and consumer attitudes towards the products.
Many rancher and farmer groups have protested calling the lab-grown variety “meat” and have been lobbying lawmakers to safeguard the word. The Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Department of Agriculture agency tasked with inspecting conditions at processing facilities, is still drafting regulations on how food products derived from animal cells must be labeled. For now, the two California companies will call their products “cell-grown chicken,” a label the agency approved last week.
Semantic and consumer opinion battles aside, Friedrich warned that farmed meat products, when they finally hit supermarket shelves, will be expensive compared to conventional sausages and patties, similar to how renewable energy initially it was more expensive than oil and gas.
However, he is confident that “cultured meat will sell itself.”