With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granting approval to a cell-based – or cultivated – meat product, new foods are expected to hit store shelves soon.
Meat cultivation – or cellular agriculture – is the process of manufacturing meat through fermentation. Animal cells are grown in a fermenter, similar to beer and yeast production, and are fed with nutrients, carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins until they mature into muscle, fat and other tissues that make up meat. This process takes several weeks and has the potential to produce meat on a mass scale in a fraction of the time, energy and cost of traditional methods.
“Precision fermentation is an evolution of traditional fermentation,” said Pablo Coronel, senior fellow, Food Process & Safety at CRB. “In traditional fermentation, such as beer or bread making, microorganisms can convert existing nutrients into all sorts of products and by-products; in precision fermentation, microorganisms are engineered using biotechnology and bioengineering to convert the nutrients into very specific molecules, such as proteins, flavors, etc.”
UPSIDE Foods in November became the first company in the world to receive a "No Questions" letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for cultivated meat, poultry, or seafood. The letter signals that the FDA has accepted UPSIDE's conclusion that its cultivated chicken is safe to eat.
Dr. Uma Valeti, CEO and founder of UPSIDE Foods, called the letter a “watershed moment in the history of food.”
“This milestone marks a major step towards a new era in meat production, and I'm thrilled that U.S. consumers will soon have the chance to eat delicious meat that's grown directly from animal cells," Valeti said.
In the U.S., cultivated meat is regulated by both the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). Having received a "No Questions" letter from the FDA, UPSIDE Foods now must work with the USDA-FSIS to secure the remaining approvals that are required before its cultivated chicken can be sold to consumers.
In March, the FDA sent a similar “No Questions” letter to Good Meat.
Until recently, the technology was largely in its research and development phase.
“USDA-FSIS inspection will only happen as production facilities are built and are ready to produce,” Coronel said. “Grants of inspection will have to be requested and that process takes a few weeks. Given that the first products have already received FDA approval, the full approval should come within months of having the factories ready to operate.”
SuperMeat, an Israeli-based startup with a proprietary platform based on Avian stem cells, says its cell-based chicken matches the nutritional profile and taste of traditional poultry. The company aims to “cover the entire category of poultry and meat products,” said SuperMeat CEO Ido Savir. “From chicken breast to liver and anything in between.”
“One of the strong points of this technology is its ability to grow tissue-like structures in full suspension without any carrier or scaffolding, resulting in a product that is 100% meat,” Savir said. “It avoids the complexities that may be introduced when working with meat that has embedded foreign material such as soy or algae, which may be undesirable in some applications or target audiences, such as those with allergies. The cultivated meat production process doesn’t require any antibiotics and drastically reduces foodborne illnesses due to the removal of the contaminants from the manufacturing process and providing a fully monitored and traceable process.”
SuperMeat recently surveyed U.S. chefs and found 86% indicated some level of interest and 22% showed they were “very interested” in serving cultivated meat and poultry on menus.
The company showcases its products and gains consumer insights through The Chicken, a Tel Aviv concept they dub the “the first farm-to-fork facility for local meat production.”
“The Chicken provides consumers a glimpse into the future of dining, by serving meat dishes in an open kitchen overlooking the meat production process,” Savir said. “SuperMeat conducted the world's first side-by-side blind tasting of cultivated meat and traditionally grown meat at The Chicken. Professional chefs and food judges were invited to the tasting and found the two products indistinguishable, demonstrating the potential of cultivated meat to serve as a base for endless meat applications.”
Achieving Commercialization Will Require Partnerships
“Achieving scale for the cultivated meat industry is very much dependent on multiple supportive industries scaling up in parallel. Developing strategic partnerships with leading players throughout the value chain will be essential to sustaining and producing cultivated meat at scale at relevant prices,” Savir said. “In terms of manufacturing, for instance, local and efficient sourcing of cell feed components will be needed to reduce the cost of cell feed media, which accounts for 60-80% of production costs.”
For example, SuperMeat is working with Ajinomoto, a food and biotechnology company, to merge Ajinomoto's manufacturing of amino acids and other media components with its production platform, creating a commercially-viable supply chain. They also are working with PHW Group, a European poultry producer, and Migros, the largest meat producer and grocery chain in Switzerland.
“With the FDA providing a ‘No Questions’ letter for cultivated chicken products in the U.S., the industry is at a major turning point. We anticipate additional approvals will come in the U.S. and around the world, helping push commercialization forward,” Savir said. “The industry as a whole is focused on building infrastructure and supply chains to set up cultivated meat for mass scale and long-term success. We expect cultivated meat will be available to consumers through select experiences in the coming year.”
As UPSIDE Foods approaches commercialization, it completed a $400-million Series C funding round last year, placing the company’s valuation at over $1 billion. It is not alone: dozens of cellular farming companies and tech startups emerged in the last few years, many earning millions in initial funding rounds.
Worldwide, the cultured meat market is expected to reach $94.5 billion by 2030, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34% during the forecast period from 2026 to 2030, according to a market intelligence report published by BIS Research.
Singapore is the only country in the world to approve cell-based meat to be sold and served to the public.
Good Meat, which received an FDA “No Questions” Letter earlier this year, can be found in Singapore on menus and at butcher shops. Its affiliates, CULT Food Science and Eat Just, Inc., are slated to open a Singapore-based plant with the ability to produce tens of thousands of pounds of cultivated meat later this year.
Which country will approve cell-based meat next and how U.S. consumers will respond remains to be seen, but the innovation in the cell-based industry is not slowing.
“Many food companies will find applications in this technology,” Coronel said. “Starting with specialty companies, such as flavor houses, sweeteners and colors where bio-identical compounds will be produced in a more sustainable safer manner than traditional.”
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