US approves lab-grown chicken
The US Department of Agriculture approved the sale of synthetic “chicken” made in a lab from animal cells by two California-based companies on Wednesday.
Upside Foods and Good Meat have been greenlit for the federal inspections required to sell animal products in the US. Their products – known as “cell-cultivated” or “cultured” chicken – were deemed safe for human consumption by the US Food and Drug Administration in November.
Unlike existing meat substitutes, which use plant proteins to mimic the texture and taste of animal products, this new breed of synthetic meat is grown in steel tanks using cells that originate from a living animal, a fertilized egg, or other biological material of animal origin. Producers hope it will one day supplement – if not entirely replace – the farm-raised variety as an environmentally-friendlier and morally-unimpeachable alternative.
Despite this ambition, lab-grown meats remain prohibitively expensive for supermarkets, Ricardo San Martin, the director of the University of California at Berkeley’s Alt:Meat Lab, told the Associated Press. Neither Upside nor Good would tell reporters how much a single lab-made chicken cutlet would currently cost, merely insisting it has fallen exponentially since they first embarked on the quest to synthesize the perfect poultry.
The companies plan to sidestep the consumer-price issue for the time being by partnering with upscale restaurants, selling their synthetic chicken as a luxury good at Bar Crenn in San Francisco (Upside) and an unnamed restaurant in Washington, DC (Good). Ultimately, they hope it will retail at a similar price to high-end organic chicken, at about $20 per pound.
An AP-NORC poll conducted in February found half of US adults said they were unlikely to try lab-grown meat. Just 18% were extremely or very likely to try it, with the remaining 30% saying they were somewhat likely. While the majority of critics listed their primary reason for disgust as “it just sounds weird,” nearly half were also concerned about the safety of such products.
Because their initial production runs will be limited – Upside says it can only grow 50,000 pounds of “chicken” in its Emeryville lab per year – lack of demand is not yet an issue. Upside COO Amy Chen, who acknowledged the “ick factor” inherent in the idea of lab-grown meat, told the AP that most people who try her company’s product come around to the idea, claiming “the most common response we get is, ‘Oh, it tastes like chicken’.”
Parallel to the rise of synthetic meat, cities like New York and London are actively encouraging residents to cut back on their consumption of actual meat, citing environmental impact. New York Mayor Eric Adams recently announced a controversial program capping meat and dairy use by public facilities.