A startup that has developed lab-grown chicken made by culturing animal cells received a key safety sign-off Wednesday from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The California-based company, called Upside Foods, was cleared by the FDA on the safety of its animal cell culture technology, which can produce meat products without slaughtering any live animals. The FDA’s decision — the agency’s first for so-called cultivated meats — means the lab-grown chicken is considered safe to eat, though further approvals are needed before the products can be sold in the United States.
In an update released Wednesday, the FDA said it evaluated Upside Foods’ production process and cultured cell material and has “no further questions” about their safety. The decision has significant implications for sustainable food production and the burgeoning cultivated meat industry.
“This is a watershed moment in the history of food,” Uma Valeti, CEO and founder of Upside Foods, said in a statement. “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.”
In order to sell its products to the public, however, Upside Foods still needs to receive approval from both the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. The company said it is now working to secure the remaining regulatory approvals before its launch.
The industry for cultivated meats and meat alternatives has seen explosive growth in recent years, particularly as new companies look to create more sustainable and climate-friendly ways to produce food.
Cultivated meats are “grown” from extracted cells from an animal — typically through a biopsy, from a cell bank, or from a fresh piece of meat that was already slaughtered as part of the food system. The cells are fed a mixture of nutrients — such as amino acids, sugars, trace minerals and vitamins — causing them to multiply and turn into the finished meat products.
Upside Foods said its cell culture technology is designed to be “indefinitely self-renewing,” which means the production process will not rely on slaughtering live animals.
The FDA said it is currently evaluating other types of food made from cultured animal cells.
“Our goal is to support innovation in food technologies while always maintaining as our priority the production of safe food,” the agency said in a statement. “Human food made with cultured animal cells must meet the same stringent requirements, including safety requirements, as all other food.”
Denise Chow is a reporter for NBC News Science focused on general science and climate change.