The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has given its approval for the sale of cell-cultured chicken, also known as cultivated, cell-based or lab-grown protein, in a landmark decision that paves the way for consumers to try it out themselves. This decision comes after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted approval to the startups, Good Meat and Upside Foods, which had already been given the green light months earlier by the FDA. The lab-grown meat is made by putting stem cells from the fat or muscle of an animal into a culture medium that feeds the cells, allowing them to grow. The medium is then put into a bioreactor to support the cells’ growth, creating an end product that looks and tastes like traditional meat.
Cultured meat proponents claim that it is healthier and more environmentally friendly than traditional meat. Singapore is the only other country to have cleared the sale of cell-cultured meat outside of the U.S. With this approval, the USDA will now inspect cultured meat facilities, just as it does traditional meat processing plants and slaughterhouses. The meat produced by Upside Foods and Good Meat will be labeled as “cell-cultivated chicken” when sold to consumers. Good Meat has also received approval to sell its cultured meat in Singapore, where it’s been available to consumers since December 2020.
What’s Next for Lab-Grown Meat Startups?
Good Meat’s manufacturing partner, Joinn Biologics, has also received USDA approval to make the cultured meat. Chef Jose Andres has placed the first order to sell Good Meat’s cultured chicken to serve it in an undisclosed Washington, D.C., restaurant, while Upside Foods has already received its first order for cultivated chicken. Chef Dominique Crenn will serve it in limited quantities at Bar Crenn in San Francisco. This approval marks a significant moment for both companies, the industry and the food system, as stated by Eat Just CEO and co-founder Josh Tetrick.
Investors have been betting on the cultured meat industry as consumers’ interest in plant-based meat wanes. Eat Just has raised $978.5 million to date, and Upside Foods has raised $608.4 million, according to PitchBook data. Despite having cash and regulatory approval, lab-grown meat startups face a few obstacles before their products can become mainstream. Companies must figure out how to create bioreactors massive enough to allow them to achieve scale. The expensive media, the inputs that feeds cells, keep prices for the finished product very high. On top of that, they will have to convince consumers that they want to eat meat grown in a lab rather than on a farm.
However, expectations are high for the industry if it manages to overcome those obstacles. By 2030, McKinsey predicts cultured meat could provide as much as half of 1% of the world’s meat supply, representing billions of pounds and $25 billion in sales. Uma Valeti, founder and CEO of Upside Foods, believes that the USDA’s decision will fundamentally change how meat makes it to our table and that it is a giant step forward towards a more sustainable future, one that preserves choice and life.