Cell cultivated chicken is now a real thing in the United States.
The meat — grown from cells in steel bioreactors and combined with amino acids, sugars, salt, vitamins and other elements — received Food and Drug Administration approval last November. It’s lab-produced meat, although for rather obvious reasons, the two companies at the forefront — Upside Foods and GoodMeat — are understandably not too keen on that description.
Now USDA has dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s in green-lighting inspection protocols that allow product approval for human consumption.
FDA and the Food Safety Inspection Service will jointly oversee production of cell-cultured meat and poultry food products:
“FDA has jurisdiction over the preharvest production phase of the animal cell culture technology process. During this phase, living cells are collected from species amenable to the acts and stored. These living cells are later placed in a controlled environment, such as a bioreactor, and introduced to inputs (e.g., amino acids, glucose and inorganic salts) and other factors that encourage their growth, multiplication, and differentiation into various cell types.
“Jurisdiction transfers to FSIS at harvest, i.e., when the cell-culture establishment commences the process of removing the cells from the controlled environment, thereby halting their ability to further grow, multiply or differentiate into various cell types. FSIS also has jurisdiction over the post harvest processing and labeling of cell-cultured meat and poultry food products.”
FSIS inspection program personnel will be required to inspect establishment harvest and processing operations at a minimum of once per shift following guidelines in FSIS Directive 5000.1 and FSIS Directive 5000.4.
As it turns out, the feds have determined there is no, none, zero, nada difference between cell-cultured meat and meat derived from slaughter.
So … if it doesn’t walk like a chicken, cluck like a chicken, have feathers like a chicken and generally do chicken-like things, will the chicken-buying public flock to the cultured-cell aisle of the grocery store?
Upside Foods Chief Operating Officer Amy Chen acknowledges the challenge: “We call it the ick factor.”
Ick is an apt sentiment. A poll, conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, found among respondents that 50% were not very likely or not at all interested in consuming cell-based meat. Doubters said things like “it just sounds weird” and “I don’t think it would be safe.” Just 18% of respondents were extremely or very likely to try it.
For now, that’s probably fine. Cell-cultivated chicken is likely years away from grocery store shelves. It’s making its debut at two high-end restaurants in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
Chefs Dominique Crenn and Jose Andrés will need to wow foodies and food critics that cell-cultivated chicken is safe, yummy and, for all practical purposes, has the same characteristics as traditionally slaughtered chicken. No pressure.
Meanwhile expect a fairly extensive campaign to convince the public that cell-based meat is all that and a bag of chips.
It won’t be easy. Big Meat is already caterwauling at any idea of calling it meat. And if and when Upside Foods or GoodMeat decides it wants to ship to grocery stores, they’ll need food product label approval from FSIS’ labeling and program delivery staff.
Longer term cell-cultivated beef, fish, pork, or lamb might eventually be on the plate. The global cell-cultivated meat market could reach $25 billion by 2030. Small potatoes compared with the $1.4 trillion meat market.
Upside Foods hopes to expand cell-cultivated meat from 50,000 to 400,000 pounds a year. GoodMeat is mum on its production goals. For comparison, chicken producers slaughter 50 billion pounds a year.
It’s a Lilliputian slice of the meat pie for sure. But cell-cultivated meat should have every chance to succeed or fail on its own merits. Without politicization. Without Big Meat interference.
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