Farmers Forum staff
WASHINGTON – The United States has approved the production and sale of lab-grown chicken cells, a move that has alarmed farm groups that say the product should not be called meat.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture granted approval on June 21, opening the door to an entirely new alternative protein industry that its makers call “slaughter-free” or “no-kill meat brands.”
The decision will allow two California companies to sell chicken produced from animal cells. However, it could be years before consumers can buy lab-produced meat in grocery stores.
The companies that sought federal approval — Upside Foods and Good Meat — celebrated the news as pivotal for the meat industry and were quick to fault traditional farming for its environmental impact of meat production and its treatment of animals. Critics, however, have been quick to point out that the better outcomes for the environment from lab-grown meats have not been proven.
“This approval will fundamentally change how meat makes it to our table,” Dr. Uma Valeti, chief executive and founder of Upside Foods, said. “It’s a giant step forward towards a more sustainable future — one that preserves choice and life.”
The United States is the second country in the world, after Singapore, to allow the production and sale of lab-grown meat. Bruce Friedrich, the president of the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit focused on cell- and plant-based meat, said that U.S. approval will mean many other countries will follow as the world looks to the United States’ food safety approval system.
To grow lab-grown meat, the producers must begin in a lab with cells taken from an animal. They are then fed water and salt and nutrients like amino acids, vitamins and minerals. The cells multiply in large tanks. “When harvested, the product is essentially minced meat, which is then formed into patties, sausage or fillets,” writes Forbes magazine’s Chloe Sorvino. “The meat contains no bones, feathers, beaks or hooves and does not need to be slaughtered.”
While Good Meat hopes to eventually produce tens of millions of pounds of product, that’s nothing compared to the 300-million tons of meat consumed around the world.
By August, Upside Foods and Good Meat could already be serving their specialty lab-grown chicken in their partner restaurants, one in Washington and one in San Francisco.
Both companies also hope to expand production to include beef but will find it harder to replicate the flavour due to beef’s higher fat content and more complex flavour, critics argue. They also say that the companies could have a huge hurdle ahead of them in finding consumer acceptance. Price alone will be a turn off as the specialty meat will be expensive.
Meantime, the Department of Agriculture is trying to figure out how the “meat” should be labelled as farm groups are calling on governments around the world to safeguard the word “meat.” In California the new product will be called “cell cultivated chicken.”
Lab-grown meat startups “ignited a modern-day space race in just the past five years,” writes Sorvino in her book Raw Deal. “The funding frenzy was wild — with investors practically salivating at the idea that they were backing new brands like it was the early days of the internet.”
She called the venture “a moonshot and should be treated as such, with a skeptical eye. ” She adds that “without groundbreaking technology that would fundamentally change how much it costs to make a steak from a cell, I’m skeptical that lab-grown meat will find mainstream adoption, outside of being used as an ingredient.”