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Cell-cultured chicken gets the final green light from USDA

Meat made from real animals cells, but with no slaughter, will debut in American restaurants

By Laura Reiley

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday gave the green light to three California-based companies to begin producing and selling lab-grown chicken in the United States, bringing the no-slaughter protein a step closer to American dinner plates.

The USDA announced it has issued grants of inspection to Upside Foods, Good Meat and Good Meat’s manufacturing partner, Joinn Biologics, the first companies aiming to bring the much-awaited product to the American market.

These companies harvest cells from viable animal tissue and grow edible flesh under controlled conditions in bioreactors, flesh they say will be identical to that raised conventionally. Alternatives to traditional animal agriculture are seen as a way to mitigate climate change, although just how much it will improve upon traditional ranching is a matter of debate, in part because the impact of how such a fledgling industry scales up is hard to predict.

Wednesday’s news followed an announcement this month that Good Meat’s and Upside Foods’ labels had been approved by the USDA — the agency has approved the term “cell-cultivated chicken” for packaging. And in November, the Food and Drug Administration declared a meat product developed by Upside to be safe for human consumption, paving the way for products derived from real animal cells, but that don’t require an animal to be slaughtered, to be sold in U.S. grocery stores and restaurants.

Lab-grown meat is safe to eat, says FDA

Dozens of major food companies are eager to debut cultivated meat to the American public. Singapore has been the only country in which these products are legally sold to consumers.

U.S. law requires all commercially sold meat and poultry to undergo routine inspections for safety and proper labeling. To accomplish this, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) places inspectors in slaughterhouses and processing plants — and for the first time in history, will assign inspectors to cultivated meat and poultry facilities.

“Applications are approved following a rigorous process, which includes assessing a firm’s food safety system,” a USDA spokeswoman said. “Based on this review, FSIS has issued the first three grants of inspection to establishments producing FSIS-regulated products derived from animal cells. After an establishment receives a grant of inspection, FSIS conducts inspection activities at the facility at least once per shift to verify the production of safe and properly labeled product.”

Upside’s chief executive, Uma Valeti, said this marks a paradigm shift in meat production and is a milestone the company has worked toward since 2015. The company plans for its products to be first available at a restaurant: Bar Crenn in San Francisco.

“We’re also running a social media contest for a chance to be among the first in the U.S. to try our cultivated chicken,” Valeti said.

Good Meat will also debut in restaurants, with acclaimed chef José Andrés ready to serve it at one of his dining rooms in Washington, D.C.

“Launching our cultivated chicken in a restaurant setting is the perfect way to introduce consumers to real meat that’s made in a whole new way. Being able to do that with José Andrés, one of the most respected chefs in the world, is a dream come true,” said Andrew Noyes, the company’s head of global communications.

Noyes said that in Singapore, restaurants have been serving the company’s cultivated chicken since 2020 and that restaurant chefs are an effective introduction to a new food category for many consumers who might be a little squeamish.

But there are other reasons restaurants are a good place to start: scale and price. It may be years before these companies are ready to supply products to regional grocery store chains that can compete on price with traditional animal agriculture products.

Nonetheless, said Dan Glickman, a Good Meat advisory board member and a former congressman and secretary of agriculture, Wednesday’s approval demonstrates that the United States is a global leader in the alternative protein space.

“Serving as U.S. secretary of agriculture afforded me the opportunity to work with countless individuals at the USDA who were committed to accelerating agricultural innovation and economic opportunity,” he said, “as well as promoting initiatives to better nourish Americans and feed people around the globe.”

By Laura Reiley

Laura Reiley is the business of food reporter. She was previously a food critic at the Tampa Bay Times, San Francisco Chronicle and Baltimore Sun. She has authored four books, has cooked professionally and is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy. She is a three-time James Beard finalist and in 2017 was a Pulitzer finalist. Twitter

Washington Post

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