Lab-grown chicken safe to eat, US regulators say

Chicken on a chopping board

A lab-grown meat product has been cleared for human consumption for the first time.

The US safety agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has approved cell cultured chicken, after a “careful evaluation”.

It is made in steel tanks by the company Upside Foods, using cells extracted from live animals.

It will be able to sell it to consumers after inspection by the US Department of Agriculture.

The FDA said it used data and information provided by the company to make its decision, and had “no other questions at this time.”

The company’s founder and chief executive Uma Valeti said: “We started Upside in a world full of doubts, and today, we have made history again as the first company to receive a ‘Letter of No Questions’ from the FDA regarding cultured meat.”

Upside Foods will have several hurdles to clear before it can sell its products – for example, the facility where the product is made will need formal approval – but Mr Valeti called the news “a watershed moment in food history”.

Appetite for innovation

A number of food start-ups are trying to develop similar products, which could lead to significant savings in carbon and water emissions, as well as freeing up land for nature.

Scientists say that pressure on the planet could fall by more than 80% with such foods, compared to the typical European diet.

Cultured meat products are predicted to take a larger slice of the total meat market in the future.

Start-up Eat Just, a competitor of Upside Foods, became the first to receive approval to make artificial “clean meat” in Singapore in 2020. Its nuggets are made from animal muscle cells in a laboratory.

Two of the biggest companies in the sector are Israel-based Future Meat Technologies and Impossible Foods, whose plant-based Impossible Burger was launched in 2016 and has grown in popularity.

As a result, the company launched a partnership with Burger King and now Impossible Whoppers are on the menus of most outlets in the United States.

Ernst van Orsouw, chief executive of Roslin Technologies – an advanced food technology company based in Scotland – described Upside Foods’ FDA approval as a “major milestone” in the industry.

“It is very encouraging to see a global regulator now reaching the same conclusion that cultured meat is safe to eat,” he said.

“The FDA has taken a risk-based, science-based and practical approach to regulating this novel food, which could be a great guide for other jurisdictions as well.”

He said this step will encourage further investment and innovation in the cultured food industry.

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