FDA says this lab-grown chicken is safe for human consumption

For the first time, a safety clearance was given to a startup's cell-cultured meat.
Lab grown chicken
Chicken grown in a laboratory from cultured cells. UPSIDE Foods

For the first time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that meat grown in a laboratory is safe to eat, paving the way for more meat alternatives to be sold in grocery stores in the United States.

The regulator evaluated the products made by UPSIDE Foods in California, which creates cell-cultured chicken by harvesting the cells from live birds and growing the meat in stainless-steel tanks. In a press release, the FDA said that UPSIDE can enter markets in the United States after they have been inspected by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and meet FDA guidelines.

[Related: We’re one key step closer to buying lab-grown burgers.]

Under the terms of a 2019 agreement, the USDA and FDA regulate cell-cultured meat together, with the USDA overseeing the processing and labeling of these alternative meat products.

Food sustainability advocates hope that lab grown meat will reduce the need to kill animals and help with the climate crisis. According to a 2020 study published in the journal The Lancet, the global food system is responsible for about 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, most of which come from animal agriculture. Cultivated chicken was even served to attendees at this month’s COP27 climate change conference in Egypt.

“The world is experiencing a food revolution and the [FDA] is committed to supporting innovation in the food supply,” wrote FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf and Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in a statement. “Advancements in cell culture technology are enabling food developers to use animal cells obtained from livestock, poultry, and seafood in the production of food, with these products expected to be ready for the U.S. market in the near future.”

[Related: How to enjoy fake meat in a way that actually helps the planet.]

In 2020, Singapore became first country that allowed the sale of cultured meat, when it granted a Eat Just Inc. regulatory approval for its laboratory grown chicken.

Hundreds of other companies are working to replicate the texture and taste of traditional meat to help make this alternative source more appealing to consumers. According to the Good Food Institute, there are more than 151 cultivated-meat companies on six continents that are financially backed by more than $2.6 billion in investments. The Good Food Institute is a nonprofit group that promote alternatives to traditional meat.

While this step is not technically an approval, the FDA says that is has, “evaluated the information submitted by UPSIDE Foods as part of a pre-market consultation for their food made from cultured chicken cells and has no further questions at this time about the firm’s safety conclusion.”

While this specific clearance only applies to food that is made from cultured chicken cells by UPSIDE, the FDA said it is ready to work with other companies developing cell-cultured foods.