Lab-Grown Chicken Approved for Sale in U.S.

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
lab-grown chicken

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: Sale of Lab-Grown Meat

Overview: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved lab-grown chicken from two companies, Upside Foods and Good Meat, to be sold in the United States.

Location: United States

Population: 336.9 million

Food policy category: Food supply and distribution, climate change

Program goals: To increase the supply of meat available for human consumption without raising and slaughtering more livestock.

How it works: Lab-grown meat, also known as cultivated meat, is made using animal cells that are fed nutrients such as amino acids and grown in large vats called bioreactors or cultivators. It takes approximately three weeks for the cells to develop into sheets of meat that can then be shaped into cutlets, nuggets, sausages, and other cuts. Lab-grown chicken is the only type of meat that has been approved so far. A separate approval process would be required before companies could begin producing and selling other types of cultivated meats such as beef or pork. 

Due to limited funds and resources, the production of lab-grown chicken will start slowly. Currently, Upside Foods can produce 50,000 pounds of lab-grown chicken per year, and with new, larger facilities, the company hopes to expand to 400,000 pounds per year in the near future. The traditional U.S. poultry industry produces 50 billion pounds of chicken per year. 

Upside Foods has partnered with Bar Crenn, a restaurant in San Francisco, to be the first location to sell their chicken product, possibly as soon as later this year. Good Meat is working with chef José Andrés to launch its product at an undisclosed restaurant in Washington, D.C. Although lab-grown meat is very costly to make, the companies plan to sell it at a price comparable to that of traditional chicken. The meat will be labeled as “cell-cultivated chicken” when it is offered to consumers. 

It may be several years before there is enough product to allow for the sale of lab-grown meat at retail stores.

Progress to date: Lab-grown meat was first approved for sale in Singapore, where it was sold for the first time in December 2020. The lab-grown chicken sold in Singapore came from the San Francisco-based company Eat Just, the parent company of Good Meat. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave Upside Foods its approval in November 2022, after working with them for more than four years, and Good Meat received FDA approval in March 2023. The Label Approval and Grant of Inspection from USDA, the final steps in completing the regulatory review process, were given to both companies in June 2023. 

Why it is important: Lab-grown meat is considered to be more humane and potentially more environmentally friendly than traditional meat production. Animals are not killed to produce cultivated meat, nor do they have to experience the cruelty they would be exposed to in many factory farms. The animals used to make lab-grown meat are typically given local anesthesia so that they do not feel any pain when their cells are removed for cultivation. 

Globally, raising and slaughtering livestock produces 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. These emissions stem from feed production and processing, enteric fermentation – a part of the natural digestion process among cattle, manure storage and processing, and processing and transportation of the animal products. While lab-grown meat production does require a lot of energy, any emissions from cultivating meat in a lab may be offset by a reduction in land and water use as compared to traditional livestock farming. However, some scientists and researchers say that it may actually be worse for the environment than traditional animal agriculture. The Good Food Institute suggests using renewable energy sources in lab-grown meat production in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible.

Lab-grown meat may be safer to eat than traditional meat, because it does not require the same amount of antibiotics that are given to livestock to combat disease and contamination, nor does it require synthetic growth hormones. There is also less contact between animals and people, which means a lower risk of viruses spreading from animals to humans. 

Cultivated meat has the potential to become a sustainable food source, if funding and consumer support allow, because animal cells can be stored for up to ten years before growing them into meat. 

Program/Policy initiated: USDA approval was announced on June 21, 2023, and the companies said they would begin production immediately. A timeline for the launch of the product in American restaurants has not yet been determined. 

Point of contact:
Upside Foods

Good Meat

Similar practices: Singapore is the only other country in the world that has approved the sale of lab-grown meats. 

Evaluation: A study published in 2022 found that 35 percent of meat-eaters and 55 percent of vegetarians were “too disgusted” by the idea of cultivated meat to even try it. While the FDA and USDA approvals certify that lab-grown meat is safe to eat, the first sales of the product at U.S. restaurants will serve as an evaluation of how it is received by consumers.

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