Lab-grown meat safe for humans to eat, US regulator declares

Upside Foods’ chicken sandwich. Credit: Upside Foods

The US government has cleared the way for Americans to be able to eat lab-grown meat for the first time following regulatory approval from the country's safety agency.

After "careful evaluation", the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared a meat product grown from animal cells for human consumption.

The cell-cultured chicken, made in steel tanks by a California company called Upside Foods, will now be able to be sold to consumers after an inspection by the US Department of Agriculture.

The firm will use animal cell culture technology to take living cells from chickens and grow the cells in a controlled environment to make the cultured animal cell food.

Uma Valeti, the company's founder and chief executive, hailed the move as a breakthrough, saying his team has made history in the world of food production.

There are a series of steps, however, the company will have to go through before selling its products to the public, including formal approval for the facility where the product is made.

Upside Foods harvests cells from animal tissues and then grows edible flesh in bioreactors, with the firm saying the flesh grown is the same to traditionally-raised meat.

Numerous other food companies have been trying to produce similar products, which are hoped to lead to huge savings in carbon emissions and water, in contrast to the climate impact of intensive meat production.

According to the United Nations, almost a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and other related land use.

The UN estimates it makes up more than 14% of all man-made greenhouse gases globally, including methane.

Methane is expelled by cows and their manure. Credit: AP Photo/Mark Baker, File

"The FDA is ready to work with additional firms developing cultured animal cell food and production processes to ensure their food is safe and lawful under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act," the regulator said in a statement.

"We encourage firms to have these conversations with us often and early in their product and process development phase, well ahead of making any submission to us.

"We are already engaged in discussions with multiple firms about various types of food made from cultured animal cells, including food made from seafood cells that will be overseen solely by the FDA."

In June, 3D Bio-Tissues Limited, a UK-based company, declared its goal of becoming the first in the UK to produce 100% animal-free "meat". The tissue engineering company produces human corneas for eye transplants and is developing skin-care and meat substitute technologies. After raising £1.75 million in investment the firm said it is "focused on producing the first 100% lab-grown meat in the next 12 months".

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