The Biden administration has issued the first approvals for cell-cultivated meat production in the United States, giving the green light to two companies to start producing chicken for human consumption.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service issued “grants of inspection” Wednesday to UPSIDE Foods and GOOD Meat following completion of a premarket consultation process at the Food and Drug Administration and a separate “rigorous process, which includes assessing a firm’s food safety system” at USDA. A third grant was also issued to JOINN Biologics, a contract manufacturing partner with GOOD Meat.

“Based on this review, FSIS has issued the first three grants of inspection to establishments producing FSIS-regulated products derived from animal cells,” an FSIS spokesperson said in a statement. “FSIS has also reviewed and approved the labels for their product to ensure that they are truthful and not misleading.”

The news is historic, representing the first companies to complete the joint FDA-USDA regulatory process for the technology finalized in 2019. Under that framework, FDA oversees cell collection and growth while USDA has jurisdiction over the processing and labeling of the products. The process is similar to a 2018 suggestion jointly offered by UPSIDE Foods — then doing business under its former name Memphis Meats — and the North American Meat Institute, which represents meat processing companies.

“This approval will fundamentally change how meat makes it to our table,” Uma Valeti, UPSIDE’s founder and CEO, said in a statement. “It’s a giant step forward towards a more sustainable future — one that preserves choice and life. We are excited to launch with our signature, whole-textured UPSIDE chicken and can’t wait for consumers to taste the future.” 

GOOD Meat, the cultivated meat arm of Eat Just, was previously granted permission to sell the chicken in Singapore in 2020, making it the first company to receive approval anywhere in the world. Now, company founder and CEO Josh Tetrick said the company was pleased to be “approved to sell to customers in the world’s largest economy.”

“This announcement that we’re now able to produce and sell cultivated meat in the United States is a major moment for our company, the industry and the food system,” he said. “We appreciate the rigor and thoughtfulness that both the FDA and USDA have applied during this historic two-agency regulatory process.”

Former Ag Secretary Dan Glickman, a member of GOOD Meat’s advisory board, said in a statement the approval “demonstrates that the United States is a global leader in the promising alternative protein space while also continuing to support family farmers’ efforts to feed the world through conventional food and agriculture techniques.”

NAMI President and CEO Julie Anna Potts noted the organization's previous work with cultivated meat producers, particularly UPSIDE Foods.

“We have worked closely with Upside Foods to create a level regulatory playing field ensuring USDA had a role to play in oversight of both traditional meat and cell-cultivated products. We look forward to continuing our work with Upside on future innovations,” she said in a statement to Agri-Pulse.

The National Chicken Council, the trade association for the U.S. broiler chicken industry, said it was confident the preference of consumers would remain with conventional chicken.

“It is imperative that cell-cultured products like these be properly regulated, inspected and labeled by both USDA and FDA,” NCC President Mike Brown said in a statement to Agri-Pulse. “Americans are set to eat a record amount of chicken this year, and we don’t see that demand waning. I think most Americans want their chicken raised on a farm, not in a laboratory.”

With FSIS grants of inspection in hand, the companies are now free to begin production of cultivated chicken. FSIS said it “conducts inspection activities at the facility at least once per shift to verify the production of safe and properly labeled product.” 

Spokespersons for both companies did not respond to questions about production timelines or capacity, but the product is widely expected to initially be available at a very small scale.

Both companies seized on the news.

GOOD Meat noted in a release that “immediately after receiving the grant of inspection, production started for the first batch of cultivated chicken.” The product will be sold to chef José Andrés for use in one of his restaurants.

UPSIDE said it processed the first restaurant order after receiving regulatory approval for chef Dominique Crenn for her Bar Crenn restaurant in San Francisco. The company also announced an online contest to win a trip to San Francisco, where the winner would be one of the first people to try the chef’s cell-cultivated chicken dish.

The winner will also receive a tour of UPSIDE’s production facility; an email outlining the contest does note a spoiler alert ahead of the tour, however.

“One thing you won’t see on the tour? Chickens!”

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