First, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave its safety blessing to the start-up of a developed meat product. He completed the first pre-market consultation with Upside Foods to investigate human food made from cultured animal cells, and concluded that Upside had “no further questions” regarding the way it produces its chicken.
“This is the only human or animal food for which FDA has completed review at this time,” the agency confirmed to TechCrunch in an email.
Before you get too excited, the FDA says that the pre-market consultation is “not an approval process,” but it does agree on the upside safety conclusion for the products. Still, it’s a historic milestone for meat companies trying to grow their products. Indeed, growth around the world is slower than food entrepreneurs might like. Singapore was the first country to legalize meat products for sale, with Eat Only the first, and indeed only, company to sell lab-grown chicken there.
As Upside Foods explained, the company works with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to get the rest of the certification before the chicken it produces is sold to consumers. The company didn’t give a time frame for when that would happen, but said “more details about the launch date will follow.”
“Processed meat has never been more accessible to the US market than it is today,” Uma Valletti, founder and CEO of Upside, told TechCrunch in an email. “This historic announcement by the FDA is a fundamental step in the regulatory process. Next, we will work with the USDA to obtain an investigational grant for the Engineering, Production and Innovation Center (EPIC) and to approve our label. Once the supplies are complete, we can begin our chicken phyllo production and sales business.”
The FDA and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) say these requirements include facility registration for the cell culture part of the process, manufacturing inspections, and the food itself getting an inspection mark before FSIS. It can enter the US market. This includes ensuring proper control and labeling, the agency said.
“We are in discussions with several organizations about different types of foods made from animal cells, including foods made from seafood cells, which are regulated only by the FDA,” the FDA said in a written statement. “Our goal is to support innovation in food technologies and always keep safe food production as our priority. Human food made from cultured animal cells must meet the same strict standards as any other food, including safety requirements.
Given that the upside of chicken production is now considered safe, is it practical value-wise? As we mentioned earlier, the production of processed meat products is expensive and the volume is not yet close to meeting the demand for meat worldwide.
“In the beginning, our chicken was sold at a premium,” Valletti said. “As we scale up, we expect to eventually reach price comparisons with conventionally produced meat. Our goal is to ultimately be more affordable than conventionally processed meat.
What is clear is that there is a lot of activity going on in this space. Just this week, Meatable unveiled its hybrid approach to lab-grown meat and plant-based proteins to bring it to market faster. Meanwhile, Vue, another processed meat startup, announced a much larger Series A round — $49.2 million — and is tapping into its Singaporean network to bring its specialty meat products, such as kangaroo and alpaca, into restaurants.
One thing is for sure, the FDA’s move to Upside Foods is hopefully a “rising tide that lifts all boats” for the processed meat industry.
Synthesis Capital founder and partner Rosie Wardle, who was part of Upside’s $400 million Series C round earlier this year, seems to think so. She said in an email that Synthesis sees this as “one of the most important developments for the future of the food industry to date.”
Specifically, the meat production method is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 96 percent with less water, land use, and energy than traditional meat production methods.
“Our own research indicates that alternative protein growth will continue at a high rate through the late 2020s and early 2030s, with the sector reaching a dominant market share around 2035,” added Wardle. “The FDA’s approval of processed meats is a big step in that direction, and we believe this announcement will have a tremendous impact on the broader alternative proteins market.”
We’ve reached out to Upside Foods for comment and will update the story with any responses.