Brian L. Frank for NPR/Brian L. Frank for NPR
Throughout human history, eating meat has meant sacrificing animals. But the scientists behind cultured meat say that’s no longer necessary. They produce meat by growing cells taken from the body of an animal. And today, the US Department of Agriculture gave its first authorization to sell meat produced in this way.
GOOD Meat, a division of Eat Just, Inc., announced that it has received USDA approval for its first poultry product, cultured chicken, grown directly from animal cells, to be sold in the US.
“This announcement that we can now produce and sell meat grown in the United States is an important moment for our company, the industry and the food system,” said Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of GOOD Meat and Eat Just. .
GOOD Meat already sells its farmed chicken in Singapore, which in 2020 became the first country to allow the commercial sale of cultured meat.
The USDA has also authorized the sale of farm-raised chicken from UPSIDE Food. “This represents a historic step,” Uma Valeti, CEO of UPSIDE Foods, told NPR via text message. The company also produces chicken grown directly from animal cells.
UPSIDE will debut a textured chicken product, which tastes very similar to chicken breast and is made with more than 99% chicken cells. I sampled it during a tour of the company’s 70,000-square-foot production facility in Emeryville, California, where its meat is grown in large, stainless-steel tanks that resemble a brewery.
I was served a piece of their chicken, fried in a white wine butter sauce. My first reaction: “It’s delicious.” (Isn’t it all in a wine and butter sauce?) And the texture was chewy, faithfully replicating the texture of chicken breast (minus bones and hard bits or gristle). “It tastes like chicken,” I said, to which Valeti quickly responded, “It’s is chicken!”
Initially, the UPSIDE Food facility can produce around 50,000 pounds of meat per year, with plans to expand beyond chicken once this product is launched.
As NPR reported last fall, the US Food and Drug Administration has given UPSIDE the green light, indicating that its farmed chicken is safe to eat. Last week, the US Department of Agriculture approved the UPSIDE label and today (Wednesday) the USDA issued an inspection clearance, meaning the company has cleared the last regulatory hurdle and can begin sales.
“Today’s historic announcement — two US companies winning regulatory approval to bring cultured meat to American consumers — marks a pivotal moment in food and agriculture,” says Bruce Friedrich, president of the nonprofit Good Food Institute. for-profit that tracks investment trends in alternatives. proteins
“Consumers are now one giant step closer to enjoying the meat they love without compromise,” says Friedrich, noting that the goal is to give people the taste of meat without sacrificing animals and without the environmental footprint attached to traditional production. of animal feed. More than 150 farmed meat and seafood companies have raised more than $2.8 billion in investments.
“Everything we know about how meat can be made is going to change,” says Valeti, who is a cardiologist by training. “This is real,” he told us himself. But don’t expect to see cultured meat in grocery stores just yet. UPSIDE’s strategy is to raise awareness about cultured meat, promoting it as a way to build a more humane and sustainable food system. And the company knows that its future also depends on selling taste, which explains the partnership with a Michelin-starred chef.
Brian L. Frank for NPR
Dominique Crenn, owner of three-Michelin-starred restaurant Atelier Crenn, will serve UPSIDE-grown chicken at her Bar Crenn restaurant in San Francisco. And GOOD Meat has partnered with celebrity chef José Andrés, who has joined the GOOD Meat board of directors. Andres plans to serve BUENA Carne’s farm-grown chicken at one of his restaurants.
“We need to innovate, adapt our diet to a planet in crisis,” said Andrés when he partnered with GOOD Meat. The company markets its cultured meat as “real” meat made “without tearing down a forest or taking a life.”
Proponents say farmed meat is more sustainable and can be produced without antibiotics and without the methane emissions linked to animal farming, particularly beef cattle. And scientists warn that the typical way meat is produced now, in concentrated animal feeding operations, is a risk factor for disease onset.
About a third of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions come from food production, and animal agriculture is responsible for much of it. Climate scientists have warned that to slow global warming, agriculture must change. Some scientists say it’s not clear whether cultured meat can reduce greenhouse gas emissions; It will depend, in part, on the source of electricity used to power your facility.
Although many of the details are proprietary, the basic formula for producing cultured meat is clear. It begins by extracting cells from animals through a needle biopsy. Food scientists no longer need to go back to the animal to extract cells each time, since there are many cells stored in a cell bank. Companies can select the cells they want to grow. Then, inside the stainless steel tanks, the cells are fed a mix of the same nutrients an animal would eat—a combination of fats, sugar, amino acids, and vitamins—allowing the cells to proliferate and turn into meat.
UPSIDE says that people who want to try their meat can visit their Instagram and Twitter represents the opportunity to join the first meal with Chef Crenn.