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The USDA cultivated chicken approval is one step for two startups and a giant leap for cultured meat

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

eat just chicken close up
Image courtesy of Eat Just with illustrations by Nate Merritt

Exactly a week ago, we reported that two leading cultivated meat companies — Upside Foods and Eat Just which creates the cultivated meat Good Meat — earned the coveted label from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that’s necessary for any meat to sell in the United States.

Now, the two companies have both completed the last step needed to sell to consumers: a Grant of Inspection (GOI). Now, after having successful inspections Upside Foods and Eat Just are both cleared to begin commercial production and sale of their cultivated chicken in the U.S.

Prior to the GOI, only one cultivated meat received the green light for sale anywhere in the world: Eat Just’s Good Meat chicken which was approved in Singapore in 2020.

As Upside Foods explains in their blog post announcing the U.S. green light, “Cultivated meat is meat.”

“Not to get bogged down in semantics, but we can’t overstate this,” the company writes, “We’re making meat! Cultivated meat is a brand-new product category, so we understand that there’s a lot of confusion out there about what it is and what it isn’t.”

But Upside Foods makes it clear: rather than a meat alternative that is vegan or vegetarian, meat made through cell culturing, cultivation, cellular agriculture… whatever you want to call it, is meat. In fact, in Upside’s lingo, it is “the most complex cut of meat ever produced. Anywhere.”

“It is a dream come true,” Upside’s CEO Uma Valeti, who launched the startup as the first cultivated meat company in the world eight years ago, said via Reuters, “It marks a new era.”

Like brewing beer, cultivated meat is cultured from a group of cells without animal slaughtering and welfare issues, emissions and deforestation, or destructive biodiversity and resource impacts associated with traditional animal agriculture and factory farming.

Even better, instead of waiting years for animals to come of age for slaughtering, the cell culturing and harvesting process only takes a few weeks, using significantly fewer resources.

That’s why the FootPrint Coalition Science Engine provided grants for cellular agriculture projects with New Harvest, a nonprofit whose aim is to steward and develop the emerging technology and industry of cultured meat, milk, and eggs toward having the best possible impact on the world.

The clearance granted by the USDA (and previously the Food & Drug Administration) is one step for the startups, Upside Foods and Good Meat, but an even bigger leap for the cultivated meat industry as a whole.

“This announcement that we’re now able to produce and sell cultivated meat in the United States is a major moment for our company, the industry, and the food system,” Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Good Meat and Eat Just said in a statement.

“We have been the only company selling cultivated meat anywhere in the world since we launched in Singapore in 2020, and now it's approved to sell to consumers in the world's largest economy.”

While both companies will begin with small restaurant rollouts as detailed in FootPrint’s previous coverage, the ultimate goal is to be available to the average consumer.

“We know the road ahead is long, but each step we take brings us that much closer to our goal of building a more humane, sustainable, and resilient food system,” Upside wrote in its blog post. “We like to imagine that chickens across America are celebrating — and we’re celebrating right along with them.”

upside chicken
Image courtesy of Upside Foods

Other companies may soon be celebrating, as startups like the FootPrint Coalition Ventures-backed Wild Type are also undergoing the regulatory process needed to sell their cultivated sushi-grade salmon.

Other recent wins in the cultivated meat industry include a $30 million round for the United Kingdom’s cultivated pork startup Uncommon, taking the pig out of real bacon, and Omeat, a California cultivated meat startup that today emerged out of stealth mode with $40 million in funding for their cultured pork, chicken, fish, and most importantly beef, the behemoth of the meat industry’s environmental issues.

The fact that cultivated meat can now one day be on the shelves of American supermarkets is a huge deal because meat consumption in the West, especially the U.S. is the highest in the world per person. For the U.S. specifically, poultry is the most consumed meat as of 2018 data from the USDA.

Despite the idea that chicken is better for the environment than red meat, the carbon footprint of chicken is enough where the switch is necessary.

A kilogram of chicken, which is about two pounds or the size of a cornish hen, has the carbon dioxide emissions equivalent of driving 16 miles in a car, whereas pork is about 28 miles, and beef 63 miles. However because chicken is has been steadily ramping up in popularity, largely because of health and global accessibility reasons, with global production increasing by 165% between 1990 and 2013 (compared to beef which only increased by 23%) the seemingly smaller footprint (or clawprint) of chicken is only burgeoning.

And that doesn’t even begin to take into account the crops needed to feed animals, the environmental footprint of the enormous amount of pesticides and water needed to sustain factory farms, or the monstrous amount of methane emissions of poultry factory farms which as FPC readers know, has 300 times the planet warming potential of CO2.

If that wasn’t enough, with the increasing world population and thus the increasing demand for meat, these problems will only be exacerbated.

Left Image: Upside Foods lab; Middle Image: Good Meat cultivated chicken; Left Image: Good Meat lab

In short, the food system for every kind of meat needs to change for the health of the planet and for the health of communities closest to the farms, polluting at dangerously high levels.

As Bruce Friedrich, President of The Good Food Institute, an organization committed to reimagining protein, puts it, Wednesday’s announcement is “groundbreaking” and “marks a pivotal moment in our journey towards building a safer, more efficient food system.”

“American consumers are now closer than ever to eating the real meat they love, that uses far less land and water than conventionally produced meat. By undergoing a comprehensive facility review process and meeting the highest regulatory standards, cultivated meat will provide consumers with a safe and trusted source of protein.As we navigate a future with increasing global demand for meat, it is crucial that governments worldwide prioritize cultivated meat as a solution that satisfies consumer preferences, supports climate goals, and ensures food security for generations to come.”

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