The United States government paved the way for Americans to be able to eat lab-grown meat, after authorities deemed a meat product derived from animal cells safe for human consumption.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will allow a California company called Upside Foods to take live cells from chickens and then grow them in a controlled laboratory environment to produce a meat product that does not involve the actual slaughter of any animals.
The FDA has stated that it is willing to approve the sale of other lab-grown meats, noting that it is “in discussions with several companies” to do the same, including companies that want to grow seafood from the cells of marine life.
“The world is experiencing a food revolution and the US Food and Drug Administration is committed to supporting innovation in the food supply,” said Robert Calif, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.
With Singapore currently the only country where lab-grown meat products are legally sold to consumers, the US approval could open the floodgates to a new food market that proponents say is more efficient and environmentally friendly than conventional livestock farming.
“We’re going to see this as the day when the food system really starts to change,” Costa Iannoulis, managing partner at Synthesis Capital, a food technology venture capital fund, told The Washington Post. “The US is the first meaningful market to agree to this – it’s seismic and groundbreaking.”
Upside Foods, formerly Memphis Meats, harvests cells from animal tissue and then grows edible meat in bioreactors. The company said the cultured meat is identical to conventional meat.
It will be a few months before lab-grown meat floods US stores — every product will have to be approved by regulators and Upside Foods still has to get USDA approval for its project.
It is also uncertain how consumers will respond to the prospect of lab-grown meat. The new generation of plant-based meat alternatives like the Impossible Burger has been hailed by many, but it hasn’t revolutionized the sector.
But the lab-grown meat industry is eager to position itself as an eco-friendly alternative in an era of growing concern about the climate impact of meat production, as well as issues of factory farming and animal welfare.
There are more than 150 farm meat companies around the world, backed by several billion dollars in investment, according to the Good Food Institute.
Making food more sustainable is a major focus of the COP27 climate talks, which will conclude soon in Egypt. Global food production is responsible for a third of all greenhouse gases emitted from human activity, with the raising of animals for meat responsible for the majority of this share. Grasslands and farmland occupy about 50% of the planet’s habitable land and use about 70% of the fresh water supply.