On Wednesday, June 21, 2023, the U.S. Agriculture Department approved the sale of lab-grown meat by Upside Foods and Good Meat, two California companies. This ruling came seven months after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared Upside Foods lab-grown meat safe for human consumption.
This decision makes the U.S. the second country in the world to allow the production and sale of this type of meat. In fact, Good Meat is already selling cultivated meat in Singapore, where the product became legal in December 2020.
Cultivated meat is created from animal cells obtained through a harmless biopsy and nourished with water, salts and other nutrients. The cells proceed to multiply in cultivators or bioreactors, doubling every 24 hours. The result looks very similar to minced meat and is shaped into the final product. It is said to have a taste and nutritional profile similar to traditional meat.
Supporters of lab-grown meat argue that it is superior to regular meat in terms of environmental impact, health and safety. For instance, it is said that cultivated meat could help meet the increasing demand for meat in the future. As meat consumption continues to rise, concerns about the availability of sufficient land and water resources arise. CEO and Founder of Upside Foods Uma Valeti adds that the limited space for farming might increase the risk of pandemics and health concerns. Lab-grown meat offers a solution by providing consumers with a safe meat alternative in a context of limited land availability.
Additionally, it opens up opportunities for individuals who abstain from eating traditional meat due to ethical concerns surrounding animal slaughter.
In terms of environmental impact, a preprint by researchers at the University of California, although not yet peer-reviewed, has shown that lab-grown meat currently has a significantly higher environmental impact compared to retail beef. This is primarily due to the use of “expensive and energy-intensive pharmaceutical grade ingredients and processes.” Associate Professor Edward Spang affirms that “it’s possible we could reduce its environmental impact in the future, but it will require significant technical advancement to simultaneously increase the performance and decrease the cost of the cell culture media.”
Upside Foods and Good Meats will serve the product in two restaurants. The former in San Francisco and the latter in Washington D.C.
It is likely to take several years before cultivated meat becomes available in grocery stores, and the product is currently significantly more expensive than regular meat. Questions have arisen regarding the labelling of the product, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service is still in the process of drafting regulations. However, the two companies refer to their product as “cell-cultivated chicken”.
Both Upside Foods and Good Meats consider this decision as revolutionary and anticipate it will transform the food market. On its Instagram account, Upside Foods stated that “this is a historic and world-changing moment and brings our vision of a more humane, sustainable future one giant bite closer to reality.” Good Meats also said that it is “excited to share GOOD meat with the U.S. and continue our mission as we build a healthier, safer and more sustainable food system.”
In conclusion, cultivated meat is still very expensive and thus it is unlikely to replace traditional meat in the near future. However, the decision of the U.S. Agriculture Department represents an intriguing development in global legislation that has the potential to significantly impact the long-term dynamics of the food system.
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