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FDA approves lab-grown meat as safe to eat

‘Cultivated’ meats that might hit store shelves in the near future include chicken, beef and seafood — all grown in the lab from animal cells

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Memphis Meats CEO Uma Valeti shows chicken his company produced in a laboratory from chicken cells in Emeryville, Calif.

In this photo taken April 11, 2019, Memphis Meats CEO Uma Valeti shows chicken his company produced in a laboratory from chicken cells in Emeryville, Calif.

Terry Chea, Associated Press

Could Conrad the chicken provide meat for the table — and keep his drumsticks intact for a stroll?

Probably.

Saying that it was “committed to supporting innovation in the food supply,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced in a “no-further-questions letter” on Wednesday that they’ve completed a “pre-market consultation of a human food made from cultured animal cells.”

An animal can donate cells for lab-grown meat without giving its life. And the meat that grows has been deemed safe to consume, the FDA said.

The meat at issue at the moment is chicken, but lab-grown beef and seafood is also in the works — “these products expected to be ready for the U.S. market in the near future,” the FDA announcement said. Still, it will be a while before the meats will reach dining tables.

Upside Foods, a startup in Emeryville, California, took chicken cells and grew them into chicken meat. The FDA said it has no further questions about the safety of consuming the meat, thought it said that the facility in which the meat is grown has to separately meet U.S. Department of Agriculture and FDA requirements and the product will have to earn a USDA mark of inspection.

The pre-consultation, by the way, is not an approval of any sort. It just gets a bunch of questions answered. But the FDA said it’s ready to work with companies that want to develop cultured animal cell food to ensure safety under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The FDA alone, by the way, will oversee the production of lab-grown seafood, while the other meats require Department of Agriculture involvement, too.

The Washington Post reports that “companies are already preparing to market steaks, poultry and seafood grown in a lab rather than raised to be slaughtered.” The articles said that “dozens of major food companies are jostling to debut cultivated meat to the American public. As of now, Singapore is the only country in which these products are legally sold to consumers.”

That the FDA found the meat safe to eat “is likely to open the floodgates in the United States in the coming months,” the Post said.

Per Wired, “A positive response from the FDA has long been seen as the next major milestone for the cultivated meat industry. In the past few years, startups in the space have built small-scale production facilities and raised billions of dollars in venture capital funding, but haven’t been able to sell their products to the public. Up until now, the small number of people invited to try cultivated meat have had to sign waivers acknowledging that the products are still experimental.”

Upside’s CEO told Wired the company had been working toward this moment for seven years. Once all the approvals are obtained, Uma Valeti said the company plans to introduce the meat to the public initially through upscale restaurants.

The hope is that chefs will be excited about lab-created meat, creating a strong initial market for it.

“Getting chefs excited about this is a really big deal for us. We want to work with the best partners who know how to cook well, and also give us feedback on what we could do better,” Valeti said.

Per CBS News, “Valeti, a cardiologist, started Upside in 2015 after coming up with the idea for what’s now called ‘cultivated’ meat while working at the Mayo Clinic growing human heart cells in a lab, he recently told NPR. Scientists can take cells from an animal with a needle biopsy, feed them nutrients to proliferate and produce meat, he reasoned.”

The Daily Mail reported on similar efforts in Britain, where scientists at 3D Bio-Tissues grew three small steak filets. “According to the team, when pan fried, the filets seared easily and showed heavy caramelisation, with aromas ‘identical to those of barbecued meat,’” the article said.