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The agency said that it considers chicken cultivated from cells as safe for humans to eat after a review of a chicken product from Upside Foods, which is a company out of Berkeley, California. The FDA said they had “no further questions” about the safety claims that Upside Foods made. However, it will still need to get the sign-off from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) before it can be sold in this country. The USDA and FDA share the supervision of meat cultivated from cells.
Some might wonder what exactly lab-grown meat is. It is cultivated from animal cells, which Uma Valeti, the CEO of Upside Foods says are “like a starter dough.” Lab-grown meat is not vegetarian. The lab still sometimes slaughters animals or copies cells from a fertilized egg or living animal, but far fewer animals need to die to obtain the same amount of meat.
Businesses use stem cells taken from an animal and then put those into vats filled with materials like amino acids, nutrients, and sugars, where they’re stored at the correct temperature. The cells form tissue, and after about three weeks, they take the cells out and make them into recognizable forms that people out shopping for meat would be used to buying.
There are currently more than 80 start-up companies betting that this type of food will be more popular than plant-based meat products, and there appears to be some demand for it, especially from consumers who rejected plant-based meat for various reasons.
Those pushing for it say it has the potential to be more sustainable than regular meat, and potentially healthier. When meat is grown in a lab, there might be less of a need for animals to be given antibiotics. Since it requires fewer animals, it could be a way to help with food supply issues, and groups like PETA are happy with the FDA’s findings.
However, there are lots of questions that still need to be answered, and how healthy lab-grown meat is still unknown. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has reportedly highlighted “the need for a better understanding of the long-term health effects of cultured meat and poultry products” in a letter to the USDA. The food Americans eat is highly processed as it is, so this could be an additional layer to that, and whether or not it’s scalable is another big factor. The cost right now is excessively high.
The first lab-grown beef burger cost more than $300,000 to create in 2013, but Valeti said they got that price down to under $2,400 a pound in 2017. The company is hoping to someday offer prices that compete with normal meat.
This is just one of the companies that the FDA is reviewing, so Americans will likely hear more about lab-grown meat soon. They will also likely hear a lot more concerns raised about it as it gets closer to their plates.