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The backstory: Cultivated meat, also known as lab-grown meat, is making waves in the food industry. Basically, it's growing stem cells from living animals and turning them into meat products. It's like cooking up meat from scratch, minus the animals.
Take Avant Meats, for example. These Hong Kong scientists have actually used this technique to create lab-grown fish maws from fish cells. How did they do it? Well, they put the cells in a special liquid with nutrients, kept them in a tank hooked up to an oxygen supply, and voilà. The cells ended up with tissues that could be shaped into larger cuts of meat. In 2020, Singapore became the first government in the world to give regulatory approval for the sale of Eat Just’s lab-grown chicken.
More recently: Last November, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the green light for the first time for lab-grown meat. This decision benefited Upside Foods, a California-based company specializing in creating meat from cultured chicken cells. The FDA checked out Upside Foods' info and had no further questions about safety. Similarly, another company called Good Meat also received a reassuring "no questions" letter from the agency about the safety of its product in March. But before they can start selling the products, they need to pass inspections from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The development: USDA regulators have just officially given the thumbs up to Upside Foods and Good Meat to sell chicken made from animal cells. This marks a significant milestone in meat production as it's all about reducing animal harm and making the process more environmentally friendly. These companies can now bring their lab-grown meat not only to restaurants but also to supermarkets across the US.
It's a big deal because it's a step away from the traditional methods of raising animals for meat and towards something more sustainable. Since the US contributes to the second-highest level of meat consumption per person in the world, this could be a game changer. Hong Kong is in first place, so bringing these kinds of products to the region could make a big difference in the popularity of cultivated meat.
"It is a dream come true," said Uma Valeti, CEO of Upside, in an interview. "It marks a new era."
“This announcement that we’re now able to produce and sell cultivated meat in the United States is a major moment for our company, the industry and the food system,” said Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Good Meat and Eat Just, in a statement Wednesday.
“If some high-end or affluent people want to eat this instead of a chicken, it’s good,” said Ricardo San Martin, director of the Alt:Meat Lab at University of California Berkeley, to AP news, referring to his view that the product won’t have much impact if it stays a niche in the wealthy community. “Will that mean you will feed chicken to poor people? I honestly don’t see it.”
“Advancements in cell culture technology are enabling food developers to use animal cells obtained from livestock, poultry, and seafood in the production of food, with these products expected to be ready for the U.S. market in the near future,” said Dr. Robert M. Califf, the FDA’s commissioner of food and drugs and Susan T. Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, in a statement last year. “The FDA’s goal is to support innovation in food technologies while always maintaining as our first priority the safety of the foods available to U.S. consumers.”