Farmed meat has it has been approved for sale in the United States for the first time. A decision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) means that a company called Upside Foods will soon be able to sell chicken made from real animal cells grown in bioreactors instead of killing animals.
The long-awaited decision from the FDA is a big deal for the meat industry. In the past few years, startups in the region have built small manufacturing facilities and raised billions of dollars in funding, but have not been able to sell their products to the public. Until now, a small number of people invited to try farmed meat had to sign disclaimers acknowledging that the product was still experimental.
Different startups focus on different types of farming, including beef, chicken, salmon, and tuna. This announcement is limited to Upside Foods and its poultry products, although it is likely that other approvals will follow soon. The product has been approved through the FDA’s Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) process. Through this process, food manufacturers provide the FDA with details of their manufacturing process and the products they produce, and when the FDA is satisfied that the process is safe, it issues a “no questions asked” letter.
The FDA’s decision means that, for the first time, farmed meats will be available for the public to try, although it is likely that the flavors will be limited to a few restaurants. Michelin star chef Dominique Crenn has already announced that he will be serving Upside Foods organic chicken at his Atelier Crenn restaurant in San Francisco.
Atelier Crenn won’t be the first restaurant to serve farm-raised meat, however. In December 2020, Singaporean regulators gave the green light to farm-raised chicken from San Francisco startup Eat Just. The chickens were sold only to a restaurant called 1880 and were later given for delivery.
Farmed meat differs from plant-based meat in that it contains actual animal cells and—hopefully—is indistinguishable from the actual animal itself. The cells are first isolated from the animal and are made into cell lines that are frozen. Small samples from these cells can be transferred to bioreactors – usually large metal tanks – where the cells are fed a growth medium that contains nutrients that the cells need to divide. As the cells mature and differentiate into the correct tissue, they can be harvested and used in animal feed.
But growing cells this way is very expensive. Developers keep the exact cost of growing their cells tight, but it’s likely that a well-grown animal will still cost several times the cost of conventional animals. Some plans for the future suggest that even the largest farms will produce meat for $17 a pound – which could mean much higher prices for restaurants and supermarkets. Because of this high cost, it is likely that the first farmed animal to be released to humans will be a mixture of animal cells and plant-derived meat.