Cultivated meat to enter US market with full USDA approvalCultivated meat to enter US market with full USDA approval
Eat Just and Upside Foods both have the government's OK to offer cell-cultivated chicken to consumers. The foods will debut in restaurants this summer.
June 23, 2023
Cultivated meat has received final approval to enter the U.S. market, as the USDA has issued grants of inspection to Upside Foods and Eat Just's Good Meat.
Both companies, based in California, will debut their cell-cultivated chicken products at restaurants run by famed chefs: Dominique Crenn will serve Upside Foods' chicken at Bar Crenn in San Francisco, California, and José Andrés will offer Eat Just's Good Meat chicken at one of his restaurants in Washington, D.C.
These are the first two cultivated meat companies to go through the U.S. government's process to obtain full approval, which included approvals from both the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Until now, Eat Just was the only company in the world that could sell cultivated meat, having received approval in Singapore in 2020. However, this is the first approval in a major market.
Since Mark Post created the first hamburger using cultivated cells in 2013, meat that doesn't require the slaughter of an animal has become a goal for many food innovators. The USDA's approval opens a huge door for a new way of producing meat: It demonstrates an existing and proven pathway for cultivated meat to move from the lab to consumers.
"Everything has changed," Upside Foods COO Amy Chen said Wednesday. "Everything about the way food makes it to the table and how meat makes it to the table is about to be different. I'm really, really excited just for what this represents for the future of food."
Eat Just CEO Josh Tetrick said that since his company received approval to sell cultivated meat in Singapore, he's repeatedly been asked two questions: Does it actually taste like chicken, and when will it be available in the United States?
"There's just no getting around the fact that the United States is not only the world's largest economy, but is a statement center across culture globally," he said. The approval "further legitimizes cultivated meat as an industry, as a technology that has now been approved for production and sale right here, in my home. It's an awesome moment. It's a major milestone for the industry."
Upside Foods was the first to get tacit approval for its chicken product from the FDA. The company received a "no questions" letter—essentially deeming that its cultivated chicken is as safe to eat as that from a slaughtered bird—in November. In March, Eat Just received its no questions letter for its Good Meat chicken.
After receiving the letters, the approval process moved to the USDA, which has jurisdiction over product labeling, as well as clearing the meat's manufacturing facility for safety. USDA both companies' labels earlier this month, allowing the products to be called "cell-cultivated chicken."
The cultivated meat grants of inspection—which is essentially just like the approval USDA provides for any traditional meat facility—came Wednesday morning. USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service issued grants of inspection for Upside Foods' EPIC facility in Emeryville, California, and for two Eat Just production facilities: its demonstration plant in Alameda, California and its co-manufacturer JOINN Biologics in Richmond, California.
"FSIS thoroughly reviews every application for a grant of inspection," an emailed statement from the agency said. "Applications are approved following a rigorous process, which includes assessing a firm's food safety system. Based on this review, FSIS has issued the first three grants of inspection to establishments producing FSIS-regulated products derived from animal cells."
Just as the USDA regulates traditional meat production sites, government inspectors will be at the Upside and Eat Just facilities whenever they "harvest" their cultivated meat—remove it from the bioreactors where the cells are grown.
The grants of inspection herald a new chapter in meat production. Even so, cultivated meat will not be widely available to consumers immediately. At first, the products will be sold in select restaurants.
After receiving its grant of inspection, Upside Foods launched a contest for consumers to be among the first to try the brand's cultivated chicken at Bar Crenn in San Francisco— one of the restaurants run by Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn. Cultivated chicken will go on the menu this summer, Chen said.
The first chicken Upside plans to serve is a whole cut product that is 99% chicken cells. This is Upside Foods' first product because it is remarkably like the meat consumers are used to, with the fibers, texture and taste they expect, Chen said, adding that it will "set the high water mark" for cultivated meat.
Good Meat will be on the menu at one of Andrés' restaurants in Washington, D.C. by the end of July, Tetrick said.
Meanwhile, both Upside Foods and Eat Just will work toward offering their cultivated meat products to more consumers. They each need commercial-scale facilities to increase the amount of cultivated meat they can make.
Upside Foods has also announced its second product will be cultivated ground chicken. That product, which is not included in the most recent approval, can be made more quickly and inexpensively.
These approvals are likely just the first of many in the United States. A wide variety of cultivated meat companies—including Believer Meats and SuperMeat, as well as Wildtype and BlueNalu for seafood—have also been working with federal regulators toward approval for their products for years.
A version of this piece originally appeared on Food Dive, an Informa sister website. Visit the site for information on manufacturing, packaging, ingredients and more.
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