From "free range" to "lab grown," some chicken served in restaurants — and eventually grocery store shelves — in the U.S. is taking the next step towards the future as "cultivated" meat earned approval from federal regulators.
Two firms dedicated to growing and selling the cultivated — also known as lab-grown — meat were issued full approvals Wednesday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to sell their chicken products in the U.S.
The two California-based cultivated meat companies, Upside Foods and Eat Just, which makes the brand Good Meat, had requested the USDA label the firms' products the first meat for sale in the U.S. that does not come from slaughtered animals. In response, the USDA earlier this month granted their products the label "cell-cultivated chicken."
The development shepherds in a new movement among food suppliers looking to lower the costs of raising and maintaining livestock, reduce harm to animals at factory farms, as well as curb the environmental impact of growing feed, use of land space and animal waste from traditional methods of animal husbandry.
"Instead of all of that land and all of that water that's used to feed all of these animals that are slaughtered, we can do it in a different way," Josh Tetrick, co-founder and chief executive of Eat Just, told the Associated Press.
Eat Just previously earned the world's first approval for cultivated meat in Singapore in 2020. Now, it has its eyes set on U.S. stomachs. The company's first major hurdle for U.S. sales was approval from the Food and Drug Administration to confirm its lab-grown meat was, which was granted in March. Upside Foods also had its products by the FDA last fall.
The majority of the roughly 250 pounds of meat consumed on average by each American every year is poultry, mainly chicken, according to a 2021 study from the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. This leaves a lot of room for cultivated meats to impact the carbon footprint of American consumption, especially for future summer barbecue seasons.
The cultivated meat is grown using cells that come from a living animal or from stored cells from a once-living animal, according to Just Eat's website. The company says once the cell lines are selected, they're combined with a broth-like mixture that includes the amino acids, fatty acids, sugars, salts, vitamins and other elements cells need to grow. Then, the meat is grown inside a steel tank and formed into shapes like nuggets or cutlets.
But lab-created meat does have its skeptics, as the industry contends with what Upside's Chief Operating Officer Amy Chen called "the ick factor" among some consumers, according to the Associated Press. However, she believes the proof is in the poultry.
"The most common response we get is, 'Oh, it tastes like chicken,'" Chen told the AP.
But it will still be a while before the products are stocked on grocery shelves. The two companies are starting small, with deals to first serve the new products in upscale restaurants. Upside will sell cultivated chicken to a San Francisco restaurant called Bar Crenn, while Good Meat dishes will be prepared by chef and restaurateur Jose Andrés' culinary experts at a Washington, D.C., restaurant.
Jennifer Stojkovic, author of "The Future of Food is Female" and founder of the Vegan Women Summit, said in an interview conducted by environmental nonprofit the Footprint Coalition this is "big news."
"At this rate, consumers in the U.S. may see cultivated meat on menus by the end of 2023," she wrote.
Globally, there are more than 150 companies exploring lab-grown meat options and regulatory approvals should start increasing in coming months and years, according to a report from the Good Food Institute.
That will lead to consumers having more choices in the future about where they source their meats, from down on the farm or from a lab.
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