The United States has approved the sale of chicken made from animal cells, marking a significant milestone in introducing “lab-grown” Meat to the market. Two California-based companies, Upside Foods and Good Meat, have received the green light from the Agriculture Department to offer “cell-cultivated” or “cultured” Meat produced in a laboratory using animal cells. This development ushers in a new era of meat production aimed at reducing harm to animals and minimizing the environmental impact associated with traditional farming practices.
The companies have obtained the necessary federal inspections required to sell Meat and poultry in the U.S. The approval follows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s earlier declaration that products from both companies are safe for consumption. Joinn Biologics, a manufacturing company collaborating with Good Meat, has also been cleared to produce these lab-grown meat products.
Cultured Meat is produced by growing cells in steel tanks, sourced from a living animal, a fertilized egg, or a cell bank. Upside Foods makes large sheets of cultivated chicken, which are then shaped into cutlets and sausages. Good Meat, already selling grown Meat in Singapore, converts chicken cells into products like cutlets, nuggets, shredded Meat, and satays.
However, it will take some time before this novel Meat becomes available in U.S. grocery stores. Cultivated chicken is currently more expensive than conventionally farmed Meat and cannot be produced at the same scale. According to Ricardo San Martin, director of the Alt: Meat Lab at the University of California Berkeley, the companies plan to serve the Meat in exclusive restaurants. Upside has partnered with a San Francisco restaurant called Bar Crenn, while Good Meat will be available at a Washington, D.C., restaurant owned by chef Jose Andrés.
The companies emphasize that their products are actual Meat, not substitutes like the Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat, which are plant-based. Globally, over 150 companies are focused on developing Meat from animal cells, including pork, lamb, fish, and beef, which has the most significant environmental impact.
Upside, headquartered in Berkeley, operates a 70,000-square-foot facility in Emeryville. At their commercial kitchen, visitors witnessed a chef preparing a cultivated chicken filet that appeared and tasted like pan-fried poultry. Good Meat, located in Alameda, runs a 100,000-square-foot plant, where a chef served a smoked chicken salad and a chicken “thigh” dish. Good Meat’s chicken products come pre-cooked and can be heated in various recipes.
Eating Meat grown from cells may evoke skepticism and aversion from some consumers, often called the “ick factor.” A recent poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research revealed that half of U.S. adults are unlikely to try Meat grown from animal cells, citing reasons like it sounding strange and concerns about safety. However, consumer acceptance tends to increase once they understand the production process and taste the Meat.
The process of cultivating Meat starts with selecting cells. Upside experts choose cells from live animals that are likely to produce high-quality Meat and multiply consistently. Good Meat utilizes a master cell bank created from a commercially available chicken cell line. These selected cell lines are combined with a mixture containing essential nutrients for cell growth. The cells then proliferate rapidly in the cultivators, forming large sheets (Upside) or masses (Good Meat). After a few weeks, the sheets or groups are shaped into cutlets, sausages, and other meat products.
Both companies have noted that their initial production will be limited. Upside’s facility can produce up to 50,000 pounds of cultivated meat products per
year, with plans to expand to 400,000 pounds per year. Good Meat has yet to provide a specific production goal. The U.S. currently produces around 50 billion pounds of conventionally farmed chicken per year.
It may take several years before these products become more widely available in restaurants and another seven to ten years before they reach the broader market. The cost will be a significant factor, and while the companies have not disclosed the price of a single chicken cutlet, they have mentioned a substantial reduction in cost since their initial demonstrations. Eventually, the price is expected to align with high-end organic chicken, which can sell for up to $20 per pound.
San Martin expresses concern that cultivated Meat may primarily cater to affluent individuals, potentially failing to address the environmental impact if it remains a niche product. Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just (Good Meat’s operating company), acknowledges the challenges of producing an affordable novel meat product for the world. However, he emphasizes the need for an alternative to traditional meat production, which is highly detrimental to the planet. He aims to provide a way for people to enjoy Meat with their families while minimizing environmental harm.