The MIT Technology Review is a magazine and online publication that focuses on the exploration and analysis of emerging technologies and their impact on society. Each year, MIT highlights some of the worst technologies — those that failed in epic ways — and among that list is cultivated chicken.
Lab-grown poultry products gained U.S. approval last year, including UPSIDE Foods (formerly Memphis Meats) and Eat Just. MIT takes a swing at the California-based company UPSIDE Foods, saying that the company was “a bird in borrowed feathers.”
The company’s product is quite a bit shy of hitting the mark. Instead of producing whole, textured chicken fillets, UPSIDE has been growing skin cells in flasks and then forming them into chicken pieces.
“In other words, Upside was using lots of labor, plastic, and energy to make hardly any meat,” the article said.
MIT has a point. While chicken sells for $4.99 per pound in stores, cultivated chicken can only be bought from UPSIDE at the Michelin-starred restaurant in San Francisco for $45.
UPSIDE was a little less than flattered by their listing. CEO Uma Valeti responded to the MIT article saying, “We are disappointed that this article fails to provide an accurate picture of the progress of cultivated meat and does not provide the right context for UPSIDE’s first product. UPSIDE has successfully and repeatedly demonstrated that we can scale our suspension technology to make delicious ground-textured and blended products. This platform is the basis for the commercial plant we are currently building and will enable large-scale production pending regulatory approval.”
Cultivated meat has a way to go before it will be considered a success. And UPSIDE admitted that in a 2023 statement following their approval by both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.
“We signed up for this work not because it’s easy, but because the world urgently needs it,” the company said.
Scale, consumer acceptance, and cost remain some of the challenges faced by the cultivated meat industry.
Samir Qurashi, a former employee, told the Wall Street Journal he knows why Upside puffed up the potential of lab-grown food. “It’s the ‘fake it till you make it’ principle,” he said.
UPSIDE responded to another article by Bloomberg in December.
“We strongly disagree with its erroneous conclusion that UPSIDE Foods does not have a path to scale its product. We have a scalable technology (something we call ‘suspension’) and have consistently and successfully run large cultivators at our EPIC pilot facility, developed a suite of delicious next-generation cultivated meat products leveraging this platform, and are building a commercial facility to enable the next level of scale.
Of course, UPSIDE’s lab-grown meat wasn’t the only tech mess of the year. MIT Technology Review included the implosion of the Titan submersible, plastic proliferation, rogue solar geoengineering, and a few other efforts among its tech disasters list.
»Related: Study: Conventional beef is greener than current lab-grown meat