San Francisco’s Bar Crenn is now revolutionizing the culinary scene by introducing the first-ever cultivated chicken dish in the United States. Although it will take time before this innovation becomes widely available, two pioneering companies have received clearance to offer their products commercially.
Obtained from Upside Foods, a Berkeley-based company, this chicken is cultivated using animal cells in a specialized production facility. Over a period of two to three weeks, the meat is nurtured to perfection. This momentous occasion at Bar Crenn marks the first instance of an American restaurant offering a dish made with cultivated meat.
While the availability of cultivated chicken is not yet widespread, the lab-grown meat industry achieved a significant milestone on June 21. The USDA granted approval for Upside Foods’ chicken, as well as a similar product from Good Meat, a brand under Alameda’s Eat Just. Prior to this, both products had already received approval from the FDA, which thoroughly assessed the meat creation process, while the USDA examined the safety standards of the companies’ facilities.
Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Good Meat and Eat Just, expresses his profound gratitude, stating, “That was one of the most meaningful things that’s happened in my life.” Tetrick’s company had already made its chicken available in Singapore since December 2020. However, gaining the approval of both the USDA and the FDA greatly bolsters the industry’s credibility, as Tetrick asserts.
Ali Khademhosseini, a bioengineer and co-founder of Los Angeles-based Omeat, a cultivated meat startup that recently emerged from stealth mode, concurs, “It’s huge.” Khademhosseini’s company has recently submitted materials to the FDA for review and welcomes the positive developments in the industry.
SCiFi Foods, a San Francisco-based company led by Joshua March, CEO and co-founder, also finds encouragement in these approvals. March emphasizes that this is a pivotal moment, as it assures industry players that there is a clear path to gaining approval and eventually selling cultivated meat. SCiFi Foods is presently engaged in discussions with the FDA and USDA, with the aim of securing approval for their cultivated beef within the next 18 months.
However, it is important to note that the availability of cultivated meat in the coming years will not be without its challenges. One of the most significant hurdles faced by these companies is scaling production to achieve affordability and widespread availability. For the time being, Upside’s chicken will only be offered at Bar Crenn, while Good Meat plans to introduce its product at José Andrés’s restaurant China Chilcano in Washington, D.C.
Chef Crenn’s decision to remove meat from her menus in 2018, driven by concerns about the environmental impact of conventional meat production, adds further significance to this collaboration. After sampling Upside’s product, Crenn was captivated by how the chicken was made and noted that its taste brought back memories of a heritage breed she had not encountered since moving to the U.S.
Advocates of cultivated meat also emphasize the environmental benefits, particularly the reduction in methane emissions associated with traditional livestock farming, as well as the ability to produce meat locally without the need for animal slaughter.
The companies interviewed by Companies Inc. assure that these issues will be addressed as they scale their operations, highlighting various strategies they have in place. SCiFi Foods employs gene-editing technology to accelerate cell growth and incorporates plant-based ingredients into its cultivated beef burger patties.
Good Meat also utilizes plant-based components in its chicken. Omeat, on the other hand, raises cows and harvests their plasma weekly to cultivate meat. According to Khademhosseini, a single cow can provide the raw materials necessary for producing 2,000 kilograms of meat per year through Omeat’s process, completely eliminating the need for slaughter.
While government agencies, such as the USDA and National Science Foundation, sponsor research in cultivated meat, the total funding thus far remains in the tens of millions of dollars. Although venture capital firms have provided substantially more funding to startups, government-backed or nonprofit-funded research tends to be openly accessible, allowing other companies to benefit from the progress made.
Almy sees promise in research endeavors related to developing cell lines from a wide range of species and refining growing media. She believes that public investment and open access to research would greatly enhance the foundational aspects of meat cultivation outside of animals.
Additionally, innovators must also gain the support of traditional meat producers, who have been resistant to labeling lab-grown meat as “meat.” Notably, Tyson’s venture capital arm has invested in Omeat, which Khademhosseini sees as an inclusive approach that involves farmers and the existing food industry.
Although this moment is cause for celebration, Tetrick remains realistic about the challenging journey ahead for companies like his. Nevertheless, he firmly believes that their success can contribute to creating a better world, despite acknowledging that it will be an arduous path to navigate.