NEW YORK: The US government has cleared the way for Americans to be able to eat lab-grown meat, after authorities deemed a meat product derived from animal cells to be safe for human consumption.
The US food and drug administration (FDA) will allow a California company called Upside Foods to take living cells from chickens and then grow them in a controlled laboratory environment to produce a meat product that doesn’t involve the actual slaughter of any animals.
The FDA said it is ready to approve the sale of other lab-grown meat, stating that it is “engaged in discussions with multiple firms” to do the same, including companies that want to grow seafood from the cells of marine life.
“The world is experiencing a food revolution and the US food and drug administration is committed to supporting innovation in the food supply,” said Robert Califf, the FDA commissioner.
With Singapore currently the only country in which lab-grown meat products are legally sold to consumers, the US approval could open the floodgates to a new food market that backers say is more efficient and environmentally-friendly than traditional livestock farming.
“We will see this as the day the food system really started changing,” Costa Yiannoulis, managing partner at Synthesis Capital, a food technology venture capital fund, told the Washington Post. “The US is the first meaningful market that has approved this – this is seismic and groundbreaking.”
Upside Foods, which was formerly known as Memphis Meats, harvests cells from animal tissues and then grows edible flesh in bioreactors. The company said the flesh grown is identical to conventionally-raised meat.
It will still take some months before lab-grown meat floods American supermarkets – each product will have to be approved by regulators and Upside Foods still has to get the acquiescence of the US department of agriculture for its venture.
It’s also uncertain how consumers will respond to the prospect of meat from a lab. The new generation of plant-based meat substitutes such as Impossible Burger, have been lauded by many but did not revolutionize the sector.
But the lab-meat industry is keen to position itself as an environmentally-friendly alternative in an age of growing concern over the climate impact of meat production, as well as factory farming and animal welfare issues.
There are more than 150 cultivated meat companies around the world, backed by several billion dollars of investments, according to the Good Food Institute.
Making food more sustainable is a major focus of the Cop27 climate talks, shortly finishing in Egypt. The global production of food is responsible for a third of all planet-heating gases emitted by human activity, with raising animals for meat responsible for the majority of this share. Pasture and cropland occupy around 50% of the planet’s habitable land and uses about 70% of fresh water supplies.