There is a food revolution in the making. But it’s not happening down at the farm. Instead, it takes place in labs where cells from live chickens, cows, or other farm animals are grown in bioreactors similar to those used to make beer. There they are immersed in a carefully regulated nutrient solution that encourages them to grow until they become chunks of meat.
An important part of this is that no animals have to be killed.
As science fiction as this sounds, this is the same process that occurs in naturally occurring cell proliferation and tissue development processes in living animals. The end product is not “fake meat” as it is sometimes called, but real meat.
In this case, it’s the lab-bred chicken from UPSIDE Foods (https://upsidefoods.com/about/) of California that’s at the forefront of the food revolution happening here in the United States.
“Our chicken looks, cooks and tastes like chicken because it’s real chicken,” according to a company website.
In a landmark announcement last week, cultured meat maker UPSIDE Foods said it had received the green light from the FDA for its cell-grown chicken. This is the first regulatory approval for cultured meat in the United States.
“This is a truly historic milestone that we have been working towards since the company was founded in 2015,” said cardiologist Uma Valeti, MD, CEO and Founder of UPSIDE Foods. “It marks a major step into a new era of meat production and brings us closer to our ultimate goal of making meat a force for good. This green light paves the way for our path to market in the United States and brings us a big step closer to hitting consumers’ plates. We have never been closer to building a more sustainable, humane and delicious world.”
According to a company statement, the FDA’s “No Questions” letter (https://www.fda.gov/media/163261/download) indicates that regulators have found nothing unsafe about the cultured broiler carrying the company manufactures.
“We currently have no questions regarding UPSIDE’s conclusion that food consisting of or containing cultured chicken cell material originates from the production process. . . are as safe as comparable foods made using other methods,” the agency’s no-question letter said.
The FDA also evaluated the company’s production process and the cultured cell material produced by the production process. They assessed the establishment of cell lines and cell banks, manufacturing controls, and all components and inputs.
In addition to meeting FDA requirements, which include registering the facility for the cell culture portion of the process, the company requires an inspection clearance from the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for the manufacturing facility. The food itself also requires a USDA certification mark before it can enter the US market.
In the meantime, the company is working closely with FSIS to ensure its broiler is properly regulated and labelled.
“We are excited by the FDA’s historic announcement that, following a rigorous evaluation, UPSIDE Foods has become the first company in the world to receive the FDA’s green light for breeding chickens,” said David Kay, communications director at UPSIDE Foods.
He pointed out that “cultured meat is expected to use significantly less water and land than conventionally produced meat.”
Despite this, cultured meat companies still require a lot of electricity to grow products.
Regarding antibiotics, which are typically used in meat animals and poultry to fight disease and speed up the animals’ growth, the lab meat researchers say they don’t need to use antibiotics in their products because the sterile lab process makes them unnecessary. You also don’t have to use growth-promoting hormones.
“Clean, safe and humane,” is how cultured meat advocates describe the advantage of this technology over conventional methods of raising livestock, which typically use tons and tons of manure.
With all of this, it’s important to remember that cell-based meats, also called cultured meats, are not plant-based “meatless meats,” like products like MorningStar Farms’ Chicken Nuggets, Beyond Burger, and Awesome Burgers, which are made from a variety of vegetables .
Look to the future
“The world is witnessing a ‘food revolution,'” said a statement from FDA Commissioner Robert Califf and Susan Mayne, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
Of the other lab-based meat companies in the United States, UPSIDE Foods comes closest to being able to produce meat at scale. A little over a year ago, the company opened a 53,000-square-foot facility in the San Francisco Bay Area that will be able to produce 400,000 pounds of meat per year — enough to serve a significant number of restaurant customers.
In the meantime, UPSIDE Foods plans to construct its first commercial scale facility in addition to working towards full authorization to sell the product. This facility will have an annual capacity of tens of millions of pounds of cultured meat. UPSIDE hopes to have the facility up and running in the next few years, a company official said.
Barry Carpenter, former president and CEO of the North American Meat Institute and advisor to UPSIDE Foods, welcomed the FDA’s announcement.
“The demand for meat is skyrocketing, and we need every tool in our toolbox to feed the world,” he said in a statement. “Cultivated meat, along with conventionally produced meat, will play a critical role in helping our food system reach that point.”
From an environmental perspective, cell-based meat requires significantly less water and land compared to conventional livestock farming.
Advocates predict cultured meat will reduce the need to slaughter animals for food and help with the climate crisis. They say the current food system is responsible for about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, most of which come from livestock.
FDA officials say the agency’s “no questions asked” approval “shows its commitment to supporting innovation in the food supply.” President Biden also recently said the country needs to move forward on innovative approaches to food production.
The agency emphasized that the FDA’s top priority is food safety. Foods made with cultured animal cells must meet the same strict requirements as other FDA-regulated foods.
Looking beyond UPSIDE Foods, the FDA said it is willing to work with other companies developing cultured animal cell foods and manufacturing processes to ensure their foods are safe and legal under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
“We encourage companies to have these discussions with us often and early in their product and process development phase, well before they submit a submission to us,” the FDA said in a statement. “We are already in discussions with several companies about different types of food made from cultured animal cells, including food made from sea animal cells, which are strictly regulated by the FDA. Our goal is to support innovation in food technology, always making the production of safe food our priority. Human food made from cultured animal cells must meet the same strict requirements, including safety requirements, as any other food.”
Still not here
According to a statement from the Center for Food Safety (https://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/press-releases/6768/), the FDA’s review of the first-ever cell-cultured food for US approval is a start, but falls short. Statement on FDA first-ever approval of lab-grown chicken). “In this “pre-market consultation,” neither the company nor the FDA presented actual data from tests looking at the effects of growing these cells in fetal bovine serum and enzymes from the intestines and pancreas of animals.
Although the company notes that it uses genetic engineering to keep the cells growing, it doesn’t disclose which genes are used, the center said in a statement. This is important information that consumers and policy makers need to know in order to make informed decisions in the best interests of public health. We should make sure that genes linked to cancer are not used. In short, the documents shared by the FDA and UPSIDE Foods Co. show us where more research and more transparent data are needed, but this is a woefully flawed review by the FDA. In its review of the company’s filing, the FDA states that it has “no additional questions” about the safety of this experimental product — but we have many more questions. In the name of protecting public health, consumers and policy makers deserve better.
Food Safety and Chickens
Salmonella, a foodborne disease that is prevalent in conventionally raised chickens, where chickens are often raised in cramped conditions and are therefore more susceptible to infection with Salmonella, which in turn can infect people who eat the contaminated meat. This poses a potentially deadly risk to consumers, said Brian Ronholm, director of food policy at Consumer Reports.
With cell-based meat, however, this is not a concern as it is produced under sterile conditions.
Consumer Reports estimates that 1.35 million Americans contract salmonella each year, and nearly a quarter of those cases come from chickens or turkeys.
The good news is that the USDA recently proposed a new strategy to reduce salmonella disease in poultry. Under the proposal, poultry producers would have to test their flocks for Salmonella before slaughter and provide records of Salmonella concentrations or serotypes to processors. The requirement is intended to encourage companies to implement measures to reduce the salmonella contamination in the poultry end product. The USDA is also considering enacting an end-product standard to ensure poultry that is contaminated with Salmonella, which can make people sick, is not placed on the market.
More about chickens
- Chicken is the most consumed meat in the US, with the average person eating 96.4 pounds per capita, according to Sentient Media.
- In 2020, 9.8 billion broilers were hatched in the US
- The number of chickens in the US is growing, and chicken production has even overtaken pig farming to become the world’s number one source of farmed meat.
- According to the latest data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), there are currently 25.9 billion chickens in the world. Most of these chickens are in China and the US, and more than half of them in Asia. Chickens are vastly superior to humans on the planet.
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