The US has granted its first ever approvals to two companies to sell chicken grown directly from animal cells, becoming only the second country to allow lab-grown meat to be offered to consumers.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved food safety systems at facilities of Upside Foods and Good Meat, with the companies adding the products would be available soon at select restaurants.
International nonprofit the Good Food Institute has welcomed the move, but said British policymakers must act to make sure the environmental, public health and economic benefits of this food are felt in the UK.
Both Upside Foods and Good Meat were cleared on safety grounds by the Food and Drug Administration in November, and the USDA last week reviewed and approved their product labels to ensure they were not misleading.
“This approval will fundamentally change how meat makes it to our table,” said Uma Valeti, CEO and founder of Upside Foods, in a statement.
“It’s a giant step forward towards a more sustainable future — one that preserves choice and life.”
Josh Tetrick, CEO of Good Meat, the cell-cultured food division of Eat Just, added its cultivated meat was now “approved to sell to consumers in the world’s largest economy.”
Producing the meat in large, high-quality volumes is expensive.
But, following approval, Upside processed its first order, placed by three-Michelin-star Chef Dominique Crenn’s restaurant Bar Crenn in San Francisco.
Good Meat, meanwhile, started production of its first batch that will be sold to celebrity chef and philanthropist Jose Andres.
Andres will sell the product at a yet-to-be-revealed restaurant in the capital Washington.
Several start-ups are aiming to produce the cultivated meat, which would allow humans to consume animal protein without the associated environmental harms of farming or animal suffering.
The products differ from plant-based substitutes such as soy burgers that mimic the texture and flavor of meat but do not contain any animal protein.
Eat Just was the first to receive authorization to make artificial meat, in Singapore in 2020.
Bruce Friedrich, president of the Good Food Institute, said the ‘historic’ announcement in the US marks a pivotal moment in food and agriculture.
“Global demand for meat is projected to double by 2050. Breakthroughs like cultivated meat enable the world to diversify protein production while slashing emissions, increasing food security, reducing risks to public health, and freeing up lands and waters for restoration and recovery,” Friedrich said.
“Given the stakes, a transition toward cultivated meat and other alternative proteins is as essential as the global transition to renewable energy. And just like renewable energy, massive public investment is key to ensuring these new sustainable foods can scale, create future-focused jobs, and benefit everyone.”
Alice Ravenscroft, head of policy at the Good Food Institute Europe, said the UK and Europe are falling behind as the rest of the world accelerates to deliver cultivated meat, urging the UK government to invest and make regulatory process transparent to realise benefits here.
“American consumers will soon be able to taste real chicken made without farming animals – so UK companies are beginning to look across the Atlantic to take their products to market,” Ravenscroft said.
“Cultivated meat has the potential to slash emissions, boost our food security and expand consumer choice. The government must step up its investment in the sector and ensure regulatory processes are robust and transparent, or risk missing out on this crucial climate solution and economic opportunity.”
Cultivated meat involves first harvesting cells from a living animal or a fertilised egg, to establish a cell bank that can be kept for decades in deep freeze. They are then cultivated in steel tanks where they are fed nutrients similar to what animals would eat.
After several weeks, the result product is ‘harvested’ from the tank and molded into shapes, such as chicken filet or satay.
Dutch scientist Mark Post unveiled the first cultivated beef burger in London in 2013, and there are now more than 30 companies across Europe working on cultivated meat, around 10 of which are based in the UK.
Research suggests as many as seven out of 10 Brits are likely to buy cultivated meat when it becomes available here, Good Food Institute said.