Michelin-star chef Dominique Crenn soon may have an interesting conundrum.
As owner of Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, she specializes in modern twists on classic French cuisine where it’s not unheard of to drop as much as $500 a person for a 14-course tasting menu.
That being said, Crenn may need to pen a new menu description in the near future. One thing is for sure, the menu item certainly won’t be written like this:
“A tasty blend of chicken cells lovingly grown in a shiny stainless steel bioreactor and sprinkled with amino acids, sugars, salt, and proteins producing the perfect lab-grown tender and moist chicken cutlet.”
Lab-grown cultivated chicken is coming. In the next year or two it will become available in limited quantities right here in the good ol’ USA. Cultivated meat is real meat without the slaughtering. It’s honest-to-goodness animal flesh.
Crenn, whose restaurant menu is pescatarian, is on the leading edge of the wave of newly approved cultured-meat technology, thanks to her partnership with Upside Foods. She hasn’t had meat on the menu since 2019 because of her environmental concerns about traditional meat production. (Crenn’s looking at you, Big Ag.) That will likely soon change.
Last November, Upside Foods became the first company to receive Food and Drug Administration approval for its slaughter-free chicken:
“Based on the information UPSIDE has presented to FDA, as well as other information available to the agency, we did not identify a basis for concluding that the production process as described in CCC 000002 would be expected to result in food that bears or contains any substance or microorganism that would adulterate the food. We have no questions at this time regarding UPSIDE’s conclusion that foods comprised of or containing cultured chicken cell material resulting from the production process defined in CCC 000002 are as safe as comparable foods produced by other methods.”
With FDA approval in hand, Upside Foods is trying to push USDA along to write inspection protocols and develop a product label. USDA is mum on a timeline, but I suspect there will be something of a discussion between Big Meat, environmentalists and Upside executives over what to ultimately label cultured meat. FDA as much as said so in its approval letter:
“Our use of the term ‘cultured chicken cell material’ in this letter is not our recommendation of that term as an appropriate common or usual name for declaring the substance in accordance with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) labeling requirements.”
Yeah, cultured-chicken cell material isn’t close to the final word. Naturally, USDA asked the public in the Federal Register what to call the meat. Food Dive went though the 1,179 entries, reporting general consent among most everyone bothering to respond: “These new products represent something new and different, and they deserve regulators’ attention and specific labeling.”
The Good Food Institute has conducted a survey finding “cultivated meat” the preference of the majority of companies producing meat from animal cells. Upside Foods likes “cultured meat.” Upside says another option favored by the public is “chicken (cultivated from chicken cells).”
And that language would be just peachy keen with Tyson Foods as the company noted in its Federal Register input:
“Tyson Foods is supportive of labels that use the appropriate qualifier, e.g., ‘cultivated, cultured, or cell-based’ along with the appropriate standard of identity or common or usual name.”
But some traditional meat producers ain’t buying what Tyson and Upside are cooking. The North Dakota Department of Agriculture says “‘cell-cultured’ or ‘cell-based’ product manufacturers are not permitted to deceptively misrepresent certain products as meat because these products are not derived from harvested production livestock.”
Sorting out what to label Upside’s poultry product will be good practice for USDA. Now that the FDA has approved the technology for growing lab-based meat there will be many more companies wanting to get in on the action. How about a steak?
It will likely be a long time, if ever, before the cultured-meat revolution makes a dent in dependency on traditional meat production. Upside Foods hopes to scale up to 400,000 pounds of lab-based chicken a year. And it ain’t cheap.
Who knows for certain if the economies of scale problem can be solved given enough time and ingenuity? Meanwhile, if I ever get to San Francisco, you’ll find me at Atelier Crenn. Just don’t ask me to wear a tux.
About Dave Dickey
Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Investigate Midwest covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. His opinions are his own and do not reflect Investigate Midwest. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Excellent reporting, Mr Dickey! Your bland of good science, pure news and good humor made helped this piece brighten my day. I am a retired truck driver (among other jobs) who drove millions of pounds of seafood, meat, and cheese all over the country. I am a news junkie but I locked out any climate news (“diesel feeds my family so go ___ _______”) until I retired in 2012. Now I am my own opposite and I apologize to our 5 young adult grandkids for being such a knucklehead. Our only rational future shot will be all about nature-healing farming (low input hydroponic, indoors, vertical, etc) and plant and “lab-grown” meat and fish replacements. As I see it this is not rocket science. It’s simple survival for all our planet’s plants and critters and also us people.
If you haven’t I urge you to read either or both of:
* “Nomad Century: How Climate Migration Will Reshape our World”, by Gaia
Vince, Flatiron Books, 2022. (She’s a climate & science focused researcher.)
* “How Are We Going to Explain This? Our Future on a Hot Earth”, by Jelmer
Mommers, Scribner, 2020. (He’s a journalist in the Netherlands).
Both books are full of painful news for anyone who still needs it, but both have some deep optimism too. On the positive side, both are very enthusiastic about our need for a very different global food system BECAUSE we already have the needed knowledge and tools, or – as your article shows – we are close to having them.
I am less optimistic than Vince and Mommers, but at 81 I still have some hope. All my life of both just living day to day and gobbling endless news leave me more impressed with how we dressed-up monkeys can make a mess of things than I am by how we clean up our messes. Some of our messes like poverty, racism, and war are always terrible…but we survive without solving them. As most folks who are honest about climate agree, we don’t have centuries to fix this one. Hope to hell I’m wrong.
Please replace ‘bland’ with ‘blend’ in the top line. Thanks.
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