No-Kill Burgers? US Firms Eye Green Light to Sell Lab-Grown Meat

Subscribers to Bloomberg Government see news like these first. Act right away to have unrestricted access to all the information you require.

A recent White House statement is seen by businesses producing lab-grown beef, chicken, and fish as a hint that consuming meat produced without the usage of animals is about to become legal in the US.

According to Eric Schulze, vice president of product and regulatory at Upside Foods, a cultured meat firm, the industry is "laser focused on commercial-scale manufacturing, and for us, that means going into competing with traditional meat products in volume." Within a year, the company hopes to start selling its meat in the US.

President Joe Biden's executive order on biotechnology and biomanufacturing, which analysts think might persuade government agencies to permit commercial sales of meat created from an animal's cells, sparked a strong response from the traditional meat and poultry business last month.

Don Schiefelbein, president of the business association National Cattlemen's Beef Association, called it "a smack in the face of cow-calf producers and farmers across the country."

Just two years ago, Singapore saw the sale of the first lab-grown chicken nuggets on a commercial scale. That remains the only nation where meat produced synthetically using animal cells is consumed. Startups and a few established food firms in the US claim, however, that their goods are ready to be sold; businesses in Israel claim that their products are nearly ready for sale; and China has hinted that it may permit the sale of lab-grown meat within the next five years.

Producers of lab-grown meat claim that their product can essentially eliminate animal slaughter, reduce carbon emissions and agricultural runoff common to the livestock business, and provide meat that is genetically identical to what Americans are used to eating from cows, chickens, pigs, and fish.

However, farmers and ranchers are skeptical that the product really belongs in the category of meat.

Lia Biondo, an associate at Western Skies Strategies, a public relations and lobbying firm that works with the US Cattlemen's Association and other agriculture groups, said: "It should be differentiated somehow, some way, so the consumer can know whether they're consuming something that was grown on a farm or ranch—or something that was grown in a petri dish."

What It Does

Plant-based meat has demonstrated the value of labeling in the marketing of alternative proteins. Impossible Foods established its reputation by selling vegan "burgers," "sausages," and "pork," and said last year that its fourth-quarter retail revenue increased by 85%. Additionally, Impossible fought back against a cattlemen's association that sought to have meat-specific phrases removed from its labeling, just like firms that produce cultured meat.

Genetically speaking, laboratory-produced meat is meat, not plant protein packed into patties that resemble beef or chicken in appearance and flavor.

The methods involved in generating farmed meat are the same regardless of the firm or kind of meat: take samples of an animal's cells, put them in a bioreactor, feed the cells, and then harvest the cells after they have multiplied into meat.

A biopsy can be used to get starter cells from a living animal, which can then be "banked" to eventually kickstart various growth processes. Companies frequently retain a bank of cell lines on hand to draw from as needed since each bioreactor requires beginning cells.

Nutrients like vitamins and amino acids are supplied to the cells. Once they have multiplied, they develop into the animal muscles and tissues that we know as flesh.

Growing chicken begins with a master bank of cell lines that are frozen for about a week before entering a bioreactor, or "cultivator," according to California-based Upside Foods, which was launched in 2015 and bills itself as the world's first cultured meat firm. A growth medium is provided to cells when they start to replicate and provides them with the glucose, vitamins, and other nutrients they require to be alive and reproduce, which usually takes one to two weeks.

The company Upside has developed cultivators that can grow entire, chopped chickens. Scaffolding, an edible surface where cells may multiply, is used by several different lab-grown meat producers. Depending on the kind of chicken, Upside's differentiation into specific muscle and fat tissues can take a few days to two weeks.

The chicken from Upside is ready for consumption after three to five days of formulation and packing. Although it doesn't resemble a leg or wing, farm-raised chicken flesh is physiologically similar to it, and it may be formed into items like boneless chicken "breast" or chicken nuggets. It tastes the same, according to Upside.

According to Upside, the harvest time for their chicken is as low as two weeks. On contrast, a live chicken in an industrial farm is often put to death no later than six weeks. While the length of the lab growing procedure varies depending on the producer and the type of meat, businesses like Upside note that their method may be more effective than conventional chicken.

The majority of the about 100 new businesses entering the market in the US are startups, but JBS SA, the largest meat producer in the world, is spending $100 million in cultured meat. In addition to having a research and development facility for grown protein in Brazil and a pilot facility in Spain, it has purchased the startup company Biotech Foods that produced cultured meat.

Governmental Regulation

Although the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department agreed in 2018 to share oversight of the potential market, the US does not now permit the sale of meat that has not been cut from an animal that was previously alive. It's still unclear how that really appears.

The Agriculture Department awarded $10 million to Tufts University to establish a center for excellence in cellular agriculture, and it published an advanced notice of proposed regulation on the labeling of goods made with farmed beef and poultry the previous year.

FDA and USDA will "continue to work in collaboration to develop more detailed procedures to facilitate coordination of our shared regulatory oversight, including developing coordinated labeling principles for livestock/poultry and seafood products made from cultured animal cells," according to a spokesperson for the FDA. Regarding the launch of the market, we cannot make any assumptions.

The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA also stated that the organization is working on drafting a labeling regulation but that it is still too early to comment on a schedule.

The FDA will control the collection of animal cells after the food is permitted for sale, and the Agriculture Department will be in charge of controlling the packing and processing of the final beef products.

According to Emily Broad Leib, founding director of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, "but they still are trying to figure out precisely how that split looks, and I believe it's going to be difficult for firms when they have to go through it."

A Covington & Burling LLP attorney who has worked on food regulation, Deepti Kulkarni, saw a similar response.

Regarding the unified regulatory framework, she questioned "How is it going to operate in practice?" "They've already indicated that further information is needed,"

What Exactly Is Meat?

At a cost of more than $300,000, a Dutch pharmacologist debuted the first lab-grown burger patty in 2013. Startups are now perfecting lab-grown steaks, salmon, foie gras, meatballs, sausages, and other foods. They claim that in the future, these foods will be priced similarly to farm-raised meat.

How customers will be able to distinguish between the two remains to be seen.

The US Cattlemen's Association petitioned the USDA's Meals Safety and Inspection Service, the agency's enforcement arm, to prohibit the use of terminology like "meat" and "beef" in lab-grown goods. The association wants these names to be reserved for food from killed animals. The government is still contemplating what to term this slaughterless meat even after it was rejected.

The majority of the lab-grown meat business feels that their goods should be branded differently from regular meat, arguing that consumers will prefer their meat for its novelty and advantages to the environment. The word "cultivated" beef is chosen by many in the industry since it is transparent but not repulsive in their eyes.

At the school's recent Cultivated Meat and Alternative Proteins Summit, Denneal Jamison-McClung, head of the UC Davis Biotechnology Program, stated, "We need to create trust with customers that way.