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Cultivated meat has achieved a major milestone by officially gaining approval to enter the U.S. market. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued grants of inspection to two California-based companies, Upside Foods and Eat Just, completing the final step in the approval process. This development marks a significant moment for the cultivated meat industry, as it paves the way for a new approach to meat production without the need for animal slaughter.
Upside Foods and Eat Just will debut their cell-cultivated chicken products at restaurants led by renowned chefs. Bar Crenn in San Francisco, overseen by Dominique Crenn, will serve Upside Foods’ chicken, while José Andrés will introduce Eat Just’s Good Meat chicken at one of his restaurants in Washington, D.C. These two companies are the first to successfully navigate the comprehensive approval process in the United States, which involved obtaining clearances from both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the USDA. Prior to this, Eat Just had already gained approval to sell cultivated meat in Singapore back in 2020. The announcement is highly anticipated within the food tech industry.
The journey towards meat produced without animal slaughter began in 2013 when Mark Post created the first hamburger using cultivated cells. Since then, the development and commercialization of cultivated meat have become increasingly desired goals. While cultivated meat has been available in Singapore since 2020, obtaining approval in a major market like the United States is a groundbreaking achievement. The USDA’s approval has opened a significant door for a novel approach to meat production, demonstrating a well-established and proven pathway for cultivated meat to transition from laboratory experiments to consumer availability in one of the world’s most influential markets.
Upside Foods took the lead by receiving tacit approval for its chicken product from the FDA. In November of the previous year, the company obtained a no-questions letter, which essentially attests to the safety of their cultivated chicken, deeming it as safe to eat as conventionally sourced meat. Eat Just received its no-questions letter for its Good Meat chicken in March.
Following the FDA’s assessment, the approval process shifted to the USDA, which oversees product labeling and facility safety clearance. Earlier this month, the USDA granted labeling approval to both Upside Foods and Eat Just, allowing their products to be labeled as “cell-cultivated chicken.” Finally, on Wednesday morning, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service issued grants of inspection to Upside Foods’ EPIC facility in Emeryville, California, as well as to Eat Just’s demonstration plant in Alameda, California, and its co-manufacturer JOINN Biologics in Richmond, California. These grants of inspection, similar to those provided for traditional meat facilities, signify a new chapter in meat production.
As the USDA regulates the production of cultivated meat, government inspectors will be present at Upside and Eat Just facilities during the “harvesting” process, when the cultivated meat is removed from the bioreactors where the cells are grown.
While this development represents a significant shift in meat production, cultivated meat will not be immediately accessible to the general public. Initially, these products will be available at select restaurants. Upside Foods has launched a contest giving consumers a chance to be among the first to try their cultivated chicken at Bar Crenn in San Francisco, one of the restaurants managed by Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn. Upside Foods’ first product will be a whole-cut chicken made up of 99% chicken cells. According to Upside Foods’ COO Amy Chen, this product closely resembles the meat consumers are accustomed to, both in terms of texture and taste, setting a high standard for cultivated meat.
By the end of July, Eat Just’s Good Meat chicken will be featured on the menu at one of José Andrés’s restaurants in Washington, D.C., marking another important step for the cultivated meat industry.
In the meantime, both Upside Foods and Eat Just are actively working to expand the availability of their cultivated meat products to reach a wider consumer base. The companies are investing in commercial-scale facilities to increase their production capacities. Upside Foods has also announced plans to introduce cultivated ground chicken as their second product, which can be produced more quickly and cost-effectively.
These recent approvals are just the beginning, as many other cultivated meat companies, including Believer Meats, SuperMeat, Wildtype, and BlueNalu (focused on seafood), have been diligently working with federal regulators to seek approval for their products. The success of Upside Foods and Eat Just provides a clear pathway for these companies to follow suit in the United States.