Wednesday, November 30, 2022

FDA gives first safety sign-off for company selling lab-grown meat

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A startup that has developed lab-grown chicken made by culturing animal cells got a key safety sign-off Wednesday from the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA cleared the California-based company, Upside Foods, on the safety of its animal cell culture technology, which can produce meat products without slaughtering any live animals. The FDA’s decision — its first for so-called cultivated meats — means the lab-grown chicken is considered safe to eat, although further approvals are needed before the products can be sold in the U.S.

The FDA said in an update Wednesday that it evaluated Upside Foods’ production process and cultured cell material and that it has “no further questions” about their safety. The decision has significant implications for sustainable food production and the burgeoning cultivated meat industry.

“This is a watershed moment in the history of food,” Uma Valeti, the CEO and founder of Upside Foods, said in a statement. “This milestone marks a major step towards a new era in meat production, and I’m thrilled that U.S. consumers will soon have the chance to eat delicious meat that’s grown directly from animal cells.”

To sell its products to the public, however, Upside Foods still needs to get approval from both the FDA and the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. It said it is working to secure the remaining approvals before it launches.

The cultivated meats and meat alternatives industry has grown explosively in recent years, particularly as new companies look to create more sustainable and climate-friendly ways to produce food.

Cultivated meats are “grown” from extracted cells from an animal — typically through a biopsy, from a cell bank, or from a fresh piece of meat that was already slaughtered as part of the food system. The cells are fed a mixture of nutrients — such as amino acids, sugars, trace minerals and vitamins — causing them to multiply and turn into the finished meat products.

Upside Foods said its cell culture technology is designed to be “indefinitely self-renewing,” which means the production process will not rely on slaughtering live animals.

The FDA said it is evaluating other types of food made from cultured animal cells.

“Our goal is to support innovation in food technologies while always maintaining as our priority the production of safe food,” the agency said in a statement. “Human food made with cultured animal cells must meet the same stringent requirements, including safety requirements, as all other food.”

Denise Chow is a reporter for NBC News Science focused on general science and climate change.

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