Anticipated 2023 production might save 12,500 chicken lives––or more. It’s a start.
SAN FRANCISCO, California––The U.S. Department of Agriculture on June 22, 2023 authorized Upside Foods of Alameda, California, and Good Meat Inc., of Berkeley, California, to start selling cell-cultured, lab-grown chicken meat produced without slaughtering animals to stores, restaurants, and the general public.
The Upside Foods and Good Meat Inc. products will be USDA-inspected, just like actual chicken carcasses from a slaughterhouse, except that the cell-cultured, lab-grown chicken meat, produced without the use of a blood serum medium, will be much more consistent in quality, with vastly less risk of infection and contamination than meat from chickens raised in a stinking haze of guano dust.
The USDA already agreed in March 2023 that the Upside Foods and Good Meat Inc. products produced without use of serum are safe to eat.
“Initial production will be limited”
“Both firms emphasized that initial production will be limited,” wrote Jonel Aleccia and Laura Ungar of Associated Press.
The Upside Foods manufacturing facility in Emeryville, California, an industrial suburb tucked between Berkeley and Oakland, “can produce up to 50,000 pounds of cultivated meat products a year,” Aleccia and Ungar said, “though the Upside goal is to expand to 400,000 pounds per year. Good Meat officials wouldn’t estimate a production goal.”
Since the average weight of “broiler chickens” sold in U.S. supermarkets is about four pounds, and since Good Meat Inc. figures to be able to at least match Upside Foods output, their combined production might save 12,500 chicken lives in 2023 alone, and then rapidly ramp up from there.
“By comparison, the U.S. produces about 50 billion pounds of chicken meat per year” from live chickens,” Aleccia and Ungar cautioned.
Chickens squawk, but money talks
“Cost will be another sticking point,” Aleccia and Ungar added. “Neither Upside nor Good Meat officials would reveal the price of a single chicken cutlet, saying only that it’s been reduced by orders of magnitude since the firms began offering demonstrations,” several years ago.
“Eventually,” Aleccia and Ungar reported, “the price is expected to mirror high-end organic chicken, which sells for up to $20 per pound.”
KFC, Chick-Fil-A, Perdue Farms, and the Tyson poultry empire may not be looking over their shoulders yet, but––as production scales up to compete for market demand––cell-cultured chicken meat comes with significant potential economic as well as ethical and public health advantages over meat produced by raising and killing animals.
Realizing that potential, while selling enough lab-grown chicken meat meanwhile to stay in business, is the challenge ahead.
“We can do it in a different way”
“Instead of all of that land and all of that water used to feed all of these animals who are slaughtered, we can do it in a different way,” Good Meat Inc. cofounder Josh Tetrick told Aleccia and Ungar of Associated Press.
Explained Aleccia and Ungar, “Cultivated meat is grown in steel tanks, using cells that come from a living animal, a fertilized egg or a special bank of stored cells. In Upside’s case, it comes out in large sheets that are then formed into shapes like chicken cutlets and sausages. Good Meat, which already sells cultivated meat in Singapore, the first country to allow it, turns masses of chicken cells into cutlets, nuggets, shredded meat and satays.”
“New era of meat products aimed at eliminating harm to animals”
The USDA approval, Aleccia and Ungar assessed, “launches a new era of meat production aimed at eliminating harm to animals and drastically reducing the environmental impacts of grazing, growing feed for animals and animal waste.
“Good Meat won multiple regulatory approvals for its chicken in Singapore in 2020 and 2021,” a Good Meat Inc. media release explained, “and in January 2023 received a key clearance that paves the way for greater scalability, lower manufacturing costs and a more sustainable product..
“In the United States, under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and Poultry Products Inspection Act, all meat and poultry sold commercially must pass inspection to ensure that it is safe, wholesome and properly labeled,” the Good Meat Inc. release continued. “To accomplish this, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service places inspectors in slaughterhouses and processing plants––and for the first time will assign inspectors to Good Meat and other cultivated meat and poultry facilities that follow.
“As part of the USDA’s approval, Good Meat received a grant of inspection for its demonstration plant in Alameda, California, as has its contract manufacturing partner, Joinn Biologics,” Good Meat Inc. said. “The comprehensive vetting includes facilities and equipment; standard operating procedure for sanitation; and the systematic approach to identification, evaluation and control of food safety hazards known as HACCP,” short for “Hazard analysis and critical control points.”
“Production started for first batch to be sold”
Concluded the Good Meat Inc. announcement, “Immediately after receiving the grant of inspection, production started for the first batch of cultivated chicken that will be sold to celebrated restaurateur and humanitarian chef José Andrés. Andrés, who is owner of José Andrés Group, which operates more than 30 restaurants across the country, previously shared that a yet-to-be-disclosed restaurant in Washington, D.C. would be the first in the country to serve Good Meat’s cultivated chicken.”
“The chicken has landed”
Upside Foods, formerly called Memphis Meats, was founded in 2015 by cardiologist and University of Minnesota professor Uma Valeti, with partners Nicholas Genovese and Will Clem.
“The chicken has landed!” exulted the Upside Foods web site.
But Upside Foods has little market presence as yet, whereas Josh Tetrick, 43, long since established himself among the leading vegan food innovators and tycoons worldwide, cofounding the Eat Just company with Josh Balk, formerly Humane Society of the U.S. vice president for farmed animal issues.
Balk long since moved on to become chief executive of a firm called The Accountability Board. More-or-less taking his place, however, is Bruce Friedrich, 53, previously head of campaigns for 15 years at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and then director of policy for four years with Farm Sanctuary.
The Eat Just vegan egg substitute Just Egg, made from pea protein, is now available at practically every major U.S. supermarket.
The 2020 Singapore launch of Good Meat Inc. cell-cultured chicken was assisted by a Singapore government initiative called “30 by 30,” which aims to enable Singapore to become 30% food self-sufficient by 2030.
Currently Singapore imports more than 90% of its food supply, mostly from neighboring Indonesia and other Asian nations. The Singapore Food Agency has identified this as a critical point of vulnerability to supply chain disruptions such as resulted from the global COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-2021, and could result from geo-political issues entirely external to anything directly involving Singapore.
The introduction of cell-cultured lab-grown chicken meat to the U.S. market comes amid continuing angst from vegans and vegetarians as to whether cultured meat products qualify as either vegan or vegetarian. Certainly they are not plant-based.
Tetrick has long insisted that his cell-cultured, lab-grown products, produced with no use of blood serum, are vegan, but reminds vegans and vegetarians with qualms that, “You are not my target market. It’s people who are eating meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
New Atlas North American editor Ben Coxworth meanwhile pointed out on April 26, 2023 that an Israeli company called Steakholder Foods, formerly MeaTech 3D), has already produced “lab-grown steak and lab-grown Wagyu beef morsels,” and has now “produced what it says are the world’s first whole [lab-grown] fillets of cultivated fish, grouper, to be precise.
“The fillets – which have yet to enter the market – were created via a partnership between Steakholder Foods and Singapore’s Umami Meats,” Coxworth reported. “The latter supplied natural grouper cells, which Steakholder cultivated and incorporated into a 3D-printable bio-ink.
“The resulting fillets are ready to cook immediately after being bioprinted,” Coxworth said. “By contrast, other lab-grown meats require an incubation and maturation period after being printed.
“The two companies are also collaborating on the development of cultivated eel,” Coxworth added.
“Exotic lab-based meats”
Eel, though eaten worldwide for centuries, is not exactly a staple of the U.S. diet.
But as Justin Klawans of The Week pointed out on April 2 2023, “Exotic lab-based meats” may become a big part of the cell-cultured meat industry, as a potentially high-priced novelty product that might be able to help pay the research-and-development costs for companies scaling up to commercial viability in the mainstream marketplace.
“An Australian company, Vow, recently unveiled a meatball made from a meat-producing gene of woolly mammoth DNA — yes, the same animal that has been extinct for 4,000 years,” Klawans wrote.
“This meatball was not edible”
“While this meatball was not edible, and was created only to market the possibilities of sustainable meat, the company is jumping ahead with the exotic trend.
Vow, according to The Guardian, has “already investigated the potential of more than 50 species, including alpaca, buffalo, crocodile, kangaroo, peacocks and different types of fish.”
Fast Company magazine meanwhile recently profiled Primeval Foods, a New York City company “that focuses exclusively on cultivating exotic meats, such as lions, tigers, and zebras,” Klawans wrote.
Meanwhile, according to Time magazine, Klawans summarized, “Shiok Meats has unveiled lab-created shrimp, lobster, and crab prototypes,” and is reportedly already seeking regulatory approval to sell lab-grown shrimp.
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