Lab-grown meat moves closer to U.S. restaurants

STORY: This chicken breast – grown in a lab using real animal cells – could appear in some U.S. restaurants as soon as 2023.

It's made by a California-based company called UPSIDE Foods. The cultivated chicken was deemed safe for human consumption in a landmark decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“It is meat, so it is chicken. It'll taste exactly as you would expect a chicken to taste’’

Lab-grown meat is derived from a small sample of cells collected from livestock,

which is then fed nutrients, grown in enormous steel vessels called bioreactors,

and processed into something that looks and tastes like a real cut of meat.

UPSIDE Foods CEO Uma Valeti explains.

“Like I said, it's not a meat alternative. It's meat that's grown from real animal cells. So what we do is we take really high quality animal cells from, let's say, a cow or a pig or a chicken or a lobster. And we look for cells that can continue to grow outside the animal in a very robust and healthy way. // So, the part that's remarkable about it is we didn't have to raise and slaughter a chicken to get real chicken meat out of it."

Just one country, Singapore, has so far approved lab-grown meat for retail sale.

But the United States is poised to follow.

UPSIDE worked with the FDA for four years before receiving the agency's green light in November 2022.

The company hopes to bring its product to restaurants as soon as 2023 and to grocery stores by 2028.

And it's not just UPSIDE Foods.

Another California cultivated meat company, GOOD Meat, has an application pending with the FDA.

And two other companies, one based in the Netherlands called Mosa Meat, and another from Israel, Believer Meats, say they're in discussions with the agency.

Some famous chefs, like Argentine Francis Mallmann and Spaniard José Andrés, have already signed up and plan to showcase the meats in their high-end eateries.

But to reach its ultimate destination – supermarket shelves – cultivated meat still faces big obstacles.

Five executives told Reuters that companies will have to attract more funding to scale up production,

in order to sell beef steaks and chicken breasts at an affordable price.

The cultivated meat sector has so far raised just under $2 billion in investments globally. That's according to data collected by the Good Food Institute.

“It's a premium product. It signifies upside to animal welfare, environment and enormous opportunity for health. So we think the initial pricing will be premium, premium to organic. And with time over the next 5 to 10 years, it'll come to conventional parity. And we also expect the price of conventional meat to continue to grow up significantly. It keeps going up. Cultivated meat price comes down, and there's a sweet spot in the next 5 to 10 years where we intersect and we become more affordable than conventional meat, and that's what we're going after.”

For now, production is still limited.

UPSIDE’s facility in the city of Emeryville in California, has the capacity to churn out 400,000 pounds of cultivated meat per year.

That’s a small fraction of the 106 billion pounds of conventional meat and poultry produced in the U.S. in 2021, according to a lobby group: the North American Meat Institute.

Then there’s the ‘ick factor’ to contend with.

A study in 2022 published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, found that 35% of meat eaters and 55% of vegetarians would be too disgusted to try cultivated meat.

Cultivated meat companies will need to convince reluctant consumers to give it go, despite the initial high cost -

likely by highlighting the fact their products don’t involve animal slaughter.

Another draw is that growing meat in a steel vessel instead of in a field could reduce the environmental impact from livestock, which are responsible for about 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

‘’And that's the unmistakable, pioneering advantage of this field, because we're offering the choice to continue to eat real meat without giving it up or trying to become a vegetarian or vegan.”