For the second time in four months, the FDA cleared cell-cultured chicken as safe to eat on Tuesday, an important step in bringing the food, grown in fermentation vats rather than from livestock, closer to the retail market.
“It’s food system transformation in action,” said Bruce Friedrich of the Good Food Institute, which promotes alternative proteins.
Backers say cell-cultured meat, like the plant-based proteins now on the market, are a cruelty-free and environmentally preferable alternative to massive livestock farms and slaughterhouses. The meat industry derides the rivals as fake meat. The arrival date for cell-cultured meats in restaurants and stores is unclear. The meat is expensive at present.
“With this landmark decision, we become the first company with cultivated meat clearances in two countries — the United States and Singapore,” said Josh Tetrick, chief executive of Eat Just. Singapore approved the cell-cultured chicken made by GOOD Meat, a division of Eat Just, two years ago.
The FDA said in a letter to GOOD Meat that “we have no questions” about the company’s documentation that its cell-cultured chicken was “as safe as comparable foods.” The first company to get the FDA green light for cell-cultured meat was UPSIDE Foods, which also makes chicken, last Nov 19.
Regulation of cell-cultured meat is shared by the FDA and USDA under a 2019 agreement. The FDA oversees cell collection, growth and differentiation. The USDA oversees the harvest, processing, packaging and labeling of the meats. In fall 2021, the USDA said it did not plan to issue new food-safety regulations for cell-cultured meats other than rules on how the products would be labeled.
“We want to hear from stakeholders and will consider their comments as we work on a proposed regulation for labeling these products,” said Sandra Eskin, Agriculture deputy undersecretary for food safety. The USDA received nearly 1,200 responses, reported Food Dive last May.
The comments, including survey information, are under evaluation, said a USDA spokesman. If companies receive USDA permission to produce cell-culture meat before rulemaking is completed for labels, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) will review proposed labels under its general requirement that labels must not be false or misleading.
“During label review, FSIS will ensure the labels clearly differentiate cell-cultured products from slaughtered meat and poultry products and bear all mandatory features required by the regulations for meat and poultry products,” said the agency. “Domestic firms producing cell-cultured meat and poultry will need their product labels approved by FSIS before bringing their products to market, even if they are producing meat and poultry products for export only.”
U.S. and global demand for meat is rising. With FDA approval of two companies making “cultivated” — the industry’s preferred term — chicken, the meat is “closer to becoming a real choice for American consumers,” said the Good Food Institute.
Chicken is the most widely consumed meat in America, estimated at 100.2 pounds per person this year. Beef consumption is forecast at 56.7 pounds per person, pork at 51 pounds and turkey at 15.9 pounds.
The FDA letter to GOOD Meat is available here.
An FDA description of how food is made with cultured animal cells is available here. Recently, FERN in partnership with Bloomberg Business Week, looked into the cell-meat manufacturing process.
The FDA catalog of consultations on cell-cultured foods is available here.