US Department of Agriculture Approves Sale of Cultured Meat in Historic Ruling

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has greenlit the sale of cell-cultured chicken, paving the way for the revolutionary product to be sampled by American consumers. The two pioneering startups that have secured the first approvals are Good Meat, a subsidiary of Eat Just, and Upside Foods, as they announced on Wednesday. Cultured meat, alternatively known as cultivated, cell-based, or lab-grown protein, is produced through a process that involves placing animal stem cells into a culture medium. This medium nourishes the cells and allows them to multiply, creating an end product that mirrors traditional meat in taste and appearance. This technological advance in meat production is believed to be healthier and more eco-friendly than traditional methods. Notably, the US is only the second country to approve the sale of cell-cultured meat, following Singapore.

Federal Approval: A Groundbreaking Step

Both Good Meat and Upside Foods had previously gained the approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which confirmed the safety of their lab-grown chicken for human consumption. Following this landmark ruling by the USDA, the department will also oversee inspections at cultured meat facilities in a similar fashion to how it monitors traditional meat processing plants and slaughterhouses. The products created by Good Meat and Upside Foods will be marketed as “cell-cultivated chicken” when they reach the consumer market.

International Recognition and Local Trials

Good Meat had earlier secured the approval to vend its lab-grown meat in Singapore, where it has been commercially available since December 2020. The first orders for the cultured chicken in the United States have already been placed by renowned chefs, with Jose Andres planning to serve Good Meat’s product in a Washington D.C. restaurant and Dominique Crenn presenting Upside Foods’ offering in limited quantities at Bar Crenn in San Francisco.

Investments and Future Prospects

With a waning interest in plant-based meat among consumers, investors have redirected their focus toward the burgeoning cultured meat industry. To date, Eat Just has raised an impressive $978.5 million, while Upside Foods follows closely with $608.4 million, according to data from PitchBook. While both companies have been buoyed by substantial funding and regulatory approval, a host of challenges still need to be addressed for cultured meat to become mainstream. Key issues include the development of bioreactors large enough for mass production and the cost of the media required to feed the cells. Furthermore, convincing consumers to opt for lab-grown over farm-raised meat remains a daunting task.

Challenges and Opportunities

Nonetheless, the potential for the industry is immense, with McKinsey forecasting that, by 2030, cultured meat could constitute up to half of 1% of the world’s meat supply. This could equate to billions of pounds and an estimated $25 billion in sales. The cell-grown meat sector, valued at about $247 million in 2022 by the market research firm Grand View Research, is projected to grow to a staggering $25 billion by 2030, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Company. However, it’s still the early days for this nascent industry, and regulatory uncertainties and consumer skepticism remain significant hurdles. Both Good Meat and Upside Foods aim to educate consumers and gather feedback through partner restaurants. They also plan to scale up production and expand to other types of meat in the future.

Expansion into Other Meats

After the initial experimental phase, both Good Meat and Upside Foods aim to increase their production capacities. Currently, the companies have withheld specific details about their existing production capabilities. However, Dr. Uma Valeti, CEO and founder of Upside Foods, stated that the company plans to reach a volume of “tens of millions of pounds of product.” In addition to scaling up, there are also plans to diversify the range of cultured meats offered. While chicken has been the first product approved, other types of meat, such as beef, could be next on the horizon. Beef, given its higher fat content and more complex flavor profile, presents a greater challenge to replicate. However, it also represents a vast market opportunity.

The Global Impact of Cultured Meat

The decision by the USDA to approve the sale of cell-cultured chicken in the US could have significant global implications. As Bruce Friedrich, the president of the Good Food Institute, noted, “The world does look to the United States’ food safety approval system, and now lots of governments will follow.” Consequently, the landmark ruling could potentially serve as a catalyst for other countries to sanction the production and sale of lab-grown meat similarly. With approximately 100 companies globally focusing on cultivated meat production, this breakthrough may expedite the worldwide growth of the industry.

Addressing Environmental and Ethical Concerns

The approval of lab-grown meat marks a significant step towards a more sustainable future. Traditional meat production is linked with significant environmental concerns, including deforestation, water pollution, and high greenhouse gas emissions. Cultured meat presents a viable solution to these pressing issues. It also addresses ethical considerations associated with animal welfare in traditional meat production. This new type of meat production eliminates the need for animals to be raised in factory farms and slaughtered, which many consumers find more palatable.

Consumer Acceptance: The Ultimate Challenge

Despite the many advantages of cell-cultured meat, the ultimate test will be whether consumers are ready to embrace this novel product. Skeptics are still wary of the scientific and safety risks, and some may be reluctant to accept the idea of consuming lab-grown meat. To overcome this, education will be key. Both Good Meat and Upside Foods will work closely with partner restaurants to provide information to consumers about the benefits and safety of lab-grown meat. The companies believe that this hands-on approach, allowing customers to sample and learn about the product in a familiar dining setting, will be instrumental in shaping positive attitudes towards cultured meat. As this exciting new chapter in food technology unfolds, the global community watches with bated breath to see whether cultured meat will deliver on its promises and reshape our food systems for the better.

As the U.S. Department approves the sale of cultured meat, it’s interesting to contrast this with Canada’s approach, where they’ve recently launched a new trade deal for meat export to Guatemala.

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