As cultivated meat continues to move toward commercialization, curious consumers have questions: When can I try it? Where can I try it? Is lab-grown meat safe? Below, we've answered these and other common questions about the safety, regulation and availability of the meat that is poised to change the future of food.
What is cultivated meat?
Cultivated meat, also known as lab grown meat, is meat developed in a lab directly from animal cells. It looks, tastes and cooks like conventionally-produced meat, but doesn't require the raising or slaughter of animals. Environmental advocates have hailed the innovation as a potentially revolutionary way to curb greenhouse gas emissions linked to meat production, while animal welfare advocates have touted lab grown meat as a safe, humane alternative to conventionally-grown meat.
Is lab grown meat safe to eat?
As with any new food product, regulators around the world are taking a close look at the safety of lab-grown meat. Experts believe that it has the potential to be a safer alternative to traditional meat because it's produced entirely in a controlled environment, which reduces the risk of contamination from bacteria and other pathogens present in live animals.
Steven Burton, the CEO of a company that helps food manufactures manage food safety risks, said in an interview with Food Navigator that there was "no slaughterhouse on the planet … that could ever compete with a lab in terms of food safety."
"There's no blood, there's no guts, there's no excessive water all over the place like you'd find in a typical slaughterhouse," he explained. "Pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella and E. Coli don't catch a ride in on the animals and the birds the way that they do with the naturally-grown animal meats that eventually find their way into kitchens."
Still, any type of food production poses potential risks. So manufacturers and regulators are working to identify them and ensure controls are in place so everyone can have the utmost confidence that lab-grown meat is safe.
What does the cultivated meat regulatory process entail?
Because the industry is relatively new, governments around the world have been creating and updating lab-grown meat regulations and procedures to review, approve and oversee cultivated meat. The regulatory process varies from place to place but generally requires cultivated meat companies to submit detailed information about their products, sometimes down to their molecular makeup, and open their labs for inspection. The process usually scrutinizes the nutritional composition of the meat, food safety risks, manufacturing processes and risk management procedures in place. Regulatory agencies are also working with industry and academic experts to develop appropriate safety and labeling guidelines for cultivated meat products.
What does the FDA's "no further questions" mean?
Cultivated meat made global headlines in 2022 after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared it had "no further questions" about whether Upside Foods' cultivated meat is safe for human consumption. The declaration in its "pre-market" consultation was effectively a greenlight from one of two key regulatory authorities overseeing lab-grown meat regulations in the United States.
Before any company can sell cultivated meat to U.S. consumers, they need approval from both the FDA and the Department of Agriculture (USDA), which jointly regulate cultivated meat products and, more broadly, oversee federal food regulations in the U.S. FDA meat regulations give the agency authority over the earlier parts of the lab-grown meat production process, including animal cell collection, while the USDA regulates the later stages of production.
Our friends at Upside Foods were the first to receive FDA approval for cultivated meat, but other companies, including Believer, aren't far behind. We expect we could have our “greenlight” in 2023.
When will lab grown meat be available?
At the moment, diners can already eat cultivated meat at select locations in Singapore and Israel. Singapore was the first country to approve its sale to consumers in 2020. In Israel, it's on the menu at Super Meat's test kitchen, where diners pay for their meals in constructive feedback. Though still not widely available, both Singapore and Israel have been advancing cultivated meat innovation and supporting its commercialization through investment and business-friendly lab-grown meat regulations. The Israeli government recently put $18 million into the world's largest cultivated meat consortium dedicated to advancing the industry.
In the U.S., cultivated meat is not yet available for commercial sale. However, several companies are working on bringing cultivated meat to market. Some experts predict that it could be available for commercial sale in the next couple years, though they caution that widespread commercialization hinges on everything from how quickly regulatory authorities can get through approvals to how quickly companies can scale their operations.
At Believer, we broke ground on our first U.S. commercial-scale production facility in 2022. When it's up and running, the state-of-the-art cultivated meat facility in Wilson, North Carolina will be the largest in the world capable of producing at least 22 million pounds of meat a year for consumers across the U.S. and beyond.
Advantages of lab grown meat
Overall, the future of cultivated meat is still uncertain, but it has the potential to fundamentally improve the world. It's a solution to feeding a growing global population without chopping down forests, harming animals, or driving our planet toward the catastrophic future climate experts warn is around the corner. Once relegated to science labs, cultivated meat technology is now moving toward commercialization with support from governments, major corporations and climate scientists. Today, over 70 startups and 40 life science companies are working on this innovative technology and bringing us closer to the future we are working to create.
For our part, that means doing everything we can to scale. Because the only way to increase our positive impact on people, animals and the planet is to increase access to Believer meat. That’s why we're keeping our eye on affordability and availability as we work in our research and development labs to refine our products, and why we're proud to be working with regulators around the world to ensure our lab-grown meat is safe and bring Believer products to people everywhere.