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In a groundbreaking decision, US regulators have granted approval for the sale of chicken produced from animal cells, allowing two California-based companies, Upside Foods and Good Meat, to offer "lab-grown" meat to restaurants and, eventually, supermarket shelves. Termed "cell-cultivated" or "cultured" meat, this development marks a new era in meat production, aiming to eliminate harm to animals and significantly reduce the environmental impact associated with traditional livestock farming.

The US Department of Agriculture has given the green light to Upside Foods and Good Meat, following prior safety approvals by the Food and Drug Administration. These companies have obtained the required federal inspections to sell meat and poultry across the nation. Cultivated meat is produced in steel tanks using cells derived from live animals, fertilized eggs, or specialized cell banks. Upside Foods creates large sheets of chicken that are then shaped into cutlets and sausages, while Good Meat offers chicken cutlets, nuggets, shredded meat, and satays.

There are challenges with lab-grown meat, the least of which are concerns for how it is produced, and the long-term safety of consumption. 

Other challenges include: 

  1. Cost: The cost of producing lab-grown meat is significantly higher compared to conventional meat production. The technology and infrastructure required for cell cultivation, such as bioreactors and nutrient mediums, are expensive. 

  2. Scalability: Currently, lab-grown meat production is limited in scale. Cultivating cells and scaling up production to meet the demand of the global meat market is a complex process. 

  3. Regulatory Approval: Lab-grown meat is a relatively new technology, and regulatory frameworks for its production and sale are still evolving. 

  4. Consumer Acceptance: Consumer perception and acceptance play a vital role in the success of lab-grown meat. Some individuals may be hesitant to embrace this new form of meat due to concerns about its taste, texture, safety, and the "naturalness" of the product. Others may be concerned with safety. 

  5. Sustainability and Environmental Impact: While lab-grown meat has the potential to reduce the environmental impact associated with traditional livestock farming, the overall sustainability of the process depends on factors such as the energy sources used, the efficiency of nutrient inputs, and the management of waste generated during production. Presently, it appears that this form of meat production is far more energy intensive than traditional methods. 

  6. Lack of Nutritional Diversity: Currently, lab-grown meat primarily focuses on replicating muscle tissue, which limits the nutritional diversity of the products. Traditional meat offers a range of nutrients, including essential vitamins and minerals, which may not be present in lab-grown alternatives. 

Although the approved lab-grown chicken has garnered attention, it will not be readily available in grocery stores for the foreseeable future. The cost of production for cultivated meat remains significantly higher than that of conventionally farmed poultry, and the technology is not yet scalable to meet widespread demand. Consequently, Upside Foods and Good Meat plan to introduce their products initially in exclusive restaurants. Upside has partnered with a San Francisco restaurant called Bar Crenn, while Good Meat's offerings will be served at a restaurant in Washington, DC, owned by chef José Andrés.

The adoption of cell-cultivated meat extends beyond chicken, with over 150 companies worldwide focusing on developing lab-grown alternatives for pork, lamb, fish, and beef.