A lab-grown meat startup gets the FDA’s stamp of approval

cultured meat first green light in the United States. The decision of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) means a company called Upside Foods will soon be able to sell chicken made from real animal cells grown in bioreactors instead of having to slaughter live animals.

A positive response from the FDA has long been seen as the next big milestone for the cultured meat industry. In recent years, startups have built in space small-scale production facilities and raised billions of dollars in venture capital, but were unable to sell their products to the public. Until now, the small number of people invited to try cultured meat had to sign a waiver acknowledging that the products are still experimental.

Only two smaller regulatory steps remain until cultured meat can be made available to the public. Upside’s production facilities will still require an inspection permit from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the food itself will require an inspection certificate before it can enter the US market. These two steps are likely to be completed much more quickly than the lengthy FDA premarket consultation process that resulted in approval.

“This is the moment we’ve been working towards for almost seven years,” said Uma Valeti, CEO of Upside. “Opening up the US market is what every company in the world is trying to do.”

Several startups focus on a range of cultured meats, including beef, chicken, salmon and tuna. This announcement only applies to Upside Foods and its farm-raised chicken, though it’s likely other statements will follow shortly. The products have been approved through an FDA process called Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). Through this process, food manufacturers provide the FDA with details about their manufacturing process and the product it makes, and once the FDA is satisfied that the process is safe, it issues a “no further questionsletter.

The FDA decision means cultured meat products could soon be available for the public to try, though it’s likely that tastings will be limited to a very small number of exclusive restaurants. Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn has already announced that she will be serving Upside Foods’ cultured chicken at her Atelier Crenn restaurant in San Francisco.

Valeti says he wants the public to get a first taste of Upside chicken through select restaurants before they can buy and cook it at home. “We would like to bring this to people through chefs in the early stages,” says Valeti. “It is very important for us to get chefs excited about this. We want to work with the best partners who can cook well and also give us feedback on what we can do better.”

However, Atelier Crenn will not be the first restaurant to serve cultured meat. In December 2020, Singaporean regulators gave the green light to farmed chicken from San Francisco-based startup Eat Just. The chicken nuggets were sold at a members-only restaurant called 1880 and later made available for delivery.

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