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Lab-Grown Meat Just Took Another Step Closer To Our Shelves

It's one hurdle cleared for Upside Foods, maker of cell cultured chicken meat. Only about 600 more to go.

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Dr. Katie Spalding

Freelance Writer

clockNov 18 2022, 17:00 UTC
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Artistic impression of cultured meat, which is to say, a petri dish filled with I think bacon? and labelled "cultured meat".
Babe are u ok? You've barely touched your petri dish full of bacon. Image: New Africa/Shutterstock

Commercially available lab-grown meat has been just around the corner for some time now – and yet our supermarket shelves and kitchen cupboards both remain mysteriously bereft of this sci-fi-sounding staple. But at long last, that might be about to change, as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced this week that cultured meat company Upside Foods has passed the first hurdle towards being sold in the mainstream markets.

“The FDA's pre-market consultation with the firm included an evaluation of the firm’s production process and the cultured cell material made by the production process, including the establishment of cell lines and cell banks, manufacturing controls, and all components and inputs,” reads the statement from the public health body. “We have no further questions at this time about the firm’s safety conclusion.”

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As the announcement makes clear, this doesn’t mean you should expect to see lab-grown meat in the shops immediately: “The voluntary pre-market consultation is not an approval process,” writes the FDA. Instead, it’s confirmation that the agency has reviewed safety information, submitted by Upside Foods, regarding the safety and manufacture of the cultured meat products – and it’s happy to let the application continue.

It’s no doubt welcome news for the company, which has been established in California for more than half a decade now, so far unable to sell its products commercially. But Upside has welcomed inquiry into its business, leading tours of the company and launching a full-scale PR campaign while they wait for regulatory approval. 

“When we bring products like this to the world, we expect people to ask a lot of questions,” Uma Valeti, CEO and founder of Upside Foods, told Fast Company in November last year. “And the best way to answer them is to start talking about it well before a product gets on the market, demystifying it.”

With this initial regulatory stage cleared, though, Upside Foods – known as Memphis Meats until May 2021 – has a full schedule of future hurdles to jump. 

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“In addition to meeting the FDA’s requirements, including facility registration for the cell culture portion of the process, the firm will need a grant of inspection from the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) for the manufacturing establishment,” notes the FDA. “Additionally, the food itself requires a mark of inspection from USDA-FSIS before it can enter the U.S. market.” 

Depending on how long all that takes, we may soon have the chance to find out if lab-grown chicken really is as good as it’s been hyped up to be. Until then, the only way to enjoy a guilt-free bucket of wings is with a trip to Singapore, the only country where cultured meat is currently available to buy – although the air travel from such a trip may somewhat cancel out any ethical concerns about the carbon footprint from a chicken or two.

Nevertheless, things seem to be moving towards a future where lab-grown meat is a normal part of life – and the FDA, it seems, are totally on board. “As this product comes closer to entering the U.S. market, we are closely coordinating with USDA-FSIS to ensure it is properly regulated and labeled,” they write. 

“Our goal is to support innovation in food technologies while always maintaining as our priority the production of safe food,” the announcement concludes. “Human food made with cultured animal cells must meet the same stringent requirements, including safety requirements, as all other food.”


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