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US regulator gives green light to cell-based meat

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has for the first time raised no objections to a cell-based meat product being made available for human consumption.

The regulator has told California-based food-tech business Upside Foods that, “while this is not an approval process”, the company will be able to launch its cell-based meat products once it has been inspected by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In a statement, the FDA said: “We evaluated the information Upside Foods submitted to the agency and have no further questions at this time about the firm’s safety conclusion.”

The move will provide a significant boost to the cell-based meat industry which has so far only been approved for public consumption in Singapore and, to a lesser extent, Israel.

Uma Valeti, the CEO and founder of Upside Foods, said: “This is a truly historic milestone that we’ve been working towards since the company was founded in 2015. It marks a major step towards a new era in meat production and brings us closer towards our ultimate goal of making meat a force for good.

“This green light paves the way for our path to market in the United States and brings us one giant step closer to arriving on consumers’ plates. Next up, we will be working with USDA to obtain the additional approvals that will enable us to sell products in the US. We’ve never been closer to building a more sustainable, humane and delicious world.”

The FDA’s assessment of Upside Foods’ cell-based meat was based on the company taking living cells from chickens and growing them in a controlled environment to make the final product.

FDA commissioner Robert Califf and Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in a statement: “The world is experiencing a food revolution and the US Food and Drug Administration is committed to supporting innovation in the food supply.”

They added: “The FDA’s approach to regulating products derived from cultured animal cells involves a thorough pre-market consultation process. While this is not considered an approval process, it concludes when all questions relevant to the consultation are resolved.

“The FDA’s goal is to support innovation in food technologies while always maintaining as our first priority the safety of the foods available to US consumers.”

And confirming that the products of other cell-based food makers could also gain approval in the US, the regulator said it is “ready to work with additional firms developing cultured animal-cell food and production processes to ensure their products are safe and lawful under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act”.

Upside Foods, formerly known as Memphis Meats, is backed by investors including meat giant Tyson Foods and agri-food heavyweight Cargill.

In April, it raised US$400m in a Series C funding round co-led by the state-backed Abu Dhabi Growth Fund and previous backer Temasek, the Singapore investment vehicle.

After the FDA’s announcement, Rosie Wardle, co-founder and partner at Synthesis Capital, which also invested in the round, said: “The approval of cultivated meat in the US from the FDA is arguably the most important regulatory milestone yet for the future of food industry. The announcement today marks a pivotal point in history.

“This is no longer science fiction – we can now grow real meat without an animal. Cultivated meat will soon be available for the first time in the US on restaurant menus and in the coming years will be on supermarket shelves and even in your Christmas lunch.”

Bruce Friedrich, president of the Washington, D.C. think tank The Good Food Institute, which aims to accelerate the development of alternative protein sources, including cell-based meat, said: “This is a critical milestone toward the future of food. Cultivated meat will soon be available to consumers in the US who desire their favourite foods made more sustainably, with production requiring a fraction of the land and water of conventional meat when produced at scale.”

Just Food’s guide: Leading the charge – the companies at the cutting edge of cell-based food

Another Just Food guide: Eyeing alternatives – meat companies with stakes in meat-free and cell-based meat

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