Two producers of lab-grown chicken in the US have recently been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to sell their products on the market. They were deemed safe for human consumption. Regulators are now working on how to label the cultivated meat and inspect the facilities that produce it — a final step to be solved this year, after which we could see lab-grown met hit the shelves in the US.
Cultivated or lab-grown meat is produced in bioreactors from animal stem cells that are fed vitamins, sugars, fat and oxygen. The process creates real meat tissue without having to raise or slaughter an animal. Americans consume about 34 billion kilograms of red meat and chicken per year, according to USDA. That’s 100 kilograms per person — which poses big problems both from a health perspective and an environmental perspective.
Good Meat, a subsidiary of the company Eat Just, completed its pre-market FDA review two weeks ago. The agency is said to have “no questions at this time” about the safety of the lab-grown chicken. It’s the second-ever positive review of a cultured meat company, after the FDA also approved UPSIDE Foods back in November 2022.
In 2020, Good Meat was allowed to start selling its lab-grown chicken in Singapore, the first country to sell such a product. Now, Good Meat and UPSIDE Foods could soon reach the US market once they clear all pending hurdles. As demand for meat continues to increase, advocates say cultivated meat can supplement the existing food supply.
Even US President Joe Biden has supported the effort, signing an executive order last year directing the Department of Agriculture to support “cultivating alternative food sources.” The order says that biotechnology and biomanufacturing can be used to achieve the country’s climate and energy goals, an argument also highlighted by companies.
Cultivated meat is on the menu?
Cultivated meat companies will not only have to wait for the US to finalize all regulations but they will also have to convince consumers of the benefits of their products. A study in 2017 surveyed US consumers and found two-thirds were willing to try cultured meat, but only one-third said they would make it a dietary staple.
Lab-grown meat offers multiple advantages. Firstly, it avoids the need for animal slaughter, thereby appealing to consumers on ethical grounds. Secondly, by growing meat in a controlled environment instead of rearing livestock in open fields, it has the potential to mitigate the environmental impact associated with traditional meat production.
However, since no company has actually produced cultured meat at a scale comparable to the commercial meat industry, it’s hard to assess the true benefits. Both systems require energy and land to grow the crops used as feed. Life cycle analyses can only guess at the real cost of growing animal cells to meet the world’s food needs.
Scaling up production will also require companies to attract more funding to increase production, which would allow them to offer chicken and beef at a more affordable price. Good Meat is planning to build the world’s largest cultivated meat facility in the US and pilot its cultured chicken at a single restaurant in Washington DC. The market is still in its infancy but if the stars align, it could be poised to quickly develop and grow.