On November 16, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made its first clearance approval of lab-grown cultivated meat for human consumption. Upside Foods, a California-based company that makes meat from cultured chicken cells, is the first lab-grown meat company to receive this safety clearance. 

How does FDA approval work?

According to the FDA’s press release, the health agency evaluated Upside Foods’ information and had no further questions regarding its safety. This pre-market consultation included an evaluation of Upside Foods’ production process and the cultured cell material. The cultured cell material consists of the establishment of cell lines and cell banks, manufacturing controls, all components and inputs, and more.

The pre-market consultation is not an approval process; instead, it means that the FDA had no further questions about the safety of Upside Foods’ cultured chicken cells. For Upside Foods to enter the U.S. market, the firm and its facility still need to meet the FDA’s requirements. Both its food and facility must also receive an inspection from the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS). 

The FDA added that the agency is ready to work with other firms and companies to ensure that their lab-grown meat and production processes are safe and lawful. As stated in the press release, “We are already engaged in discussions with multiple firms about various types of food made from cultured animal cells…Our goal is to support innovation in food technologies while always maintaining as our priority the production of safe food. Human food made with cultured animal cells must meet the same stringent requirements, including safety requirements, as all other food.”

Upside Foods' FDA Lab-grown chicken meat approved
Lab-grown chicken; Photo Credit: Upside Foods

How is meat grown in a lab?

Upside Foods uses animal cell culture technology to take living cells from chickens and grow them in a controlled environment. 

To create lab-grown meat, cells must first be harvested from a living animal. The ideal harvested cells are then placed into bioreactors to establish a cell line. Nutrients are then added to nourish the cells. For Upside Foods’ chicken meat, scientists use a cell feed that consists of amino acids, fatty acids, sugars, trace elements, salts, and vitamins.

With the right nutrients, temperature, and oxygen levels, the cells grow and multiply to produce real muscle tissues. Scientists can shape this tissue however they desire. The final product is a true cut of meat, from steak to chicken nuggets to hamburgers to salmon. 

Since lab-grown meat uses the same animal cells as conventional meat, it is real meat made of 100 percent animal tissue. However, lab-grown meat comes from cells harvested from living animals, whereas conventional meat comes from an animal that has been killed. 

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