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Upside Foods brings a lab grown chicken farm to Emeryville

UPSIDE Foods, one of the companies making the lab-grown meats that hope to replace industrial animal farming, is opening a massive new production and research facility in Emeryville, Ca.It’s the first of its kind in the US and the company claims that it’s “the most advanced cultivated meat production facility in the world.”

At 53,000 square feet, it’s certainly one of the biggest. And it’s designed to produce meat, poultry, and seafood from animal cells instead of slaughtered animals.

The company estimates that its cultivators can produce 50,000 pounds of the finished product, with the potential to expand to over 400,000 pounds per year.

While that may seem like a lot of lab meat, the production is dwarfed by the output of a typical chicken plant, which processes 600 tons of chicken (based on an average weight of 6 pounds per chicken and a rate of 200,000 birds per day).

The difference is in the production. Unlike a slaughterhouse, which is typically far away from urban population centers, UPSIDE is putting its plant smack in the middle of a city.

“When we founded UPSIDE in 2015, it was the only cultivated meat company in a world full of skeptics,” Dr. Uma Valeti, CEO and Founder of UPSIDE Foods said, in a statement. “When we talked about our dream of scaling up production, it was just that — a dream. Today, that dream becomes a reality. The journey from tiny cells to EPIC has been an incredible one, and we are just getting started.”

The plant will employ 50 people at full capacity, which is about 30 fewer people than a typical chicken plant employs (there are roughly 239,000 employees in the poultry processing industry in the US and 2,979 plants in the nation).

“Today, our team at UPSIDE has made history,” said Konrad Müller-Auffermann, Senior Director of Engineering at UPSIDE. “This facility is a game-changer not just for UPSIDE Foods, but also for the entire food system. I’m so proud of our team for helping to define the future of food, and I can’t wait to share our delicious, real meat with the world.”

UPSIDE is just one of a growing flock of companies that are hoping to bring lab-grown meat to market.

The company is among the most advanced in the US, but competition from overseas businesses is fierce and cultivated feathers are flying across the industry.

Take Mosa Meat, Aleph Farms, and MeaTech, all companies that have raised capital recently and signed on celebrity star power to help tell their story. Mosa and Aleph both raised cash from Leonardo DiCaprio, while MeaTech tapped Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures for cash.

These companies are building on technologies and research from organizations like FootPrint Coalition grant recipient New Harvest, a research organization supporting the development of cultured meat technologies.

While lab-grown meat can be more sustainable than its 19th-century industrial analog, a lot depends on where the energy to power the factories comes from.

A recent study indicated that most of the emissions benefit from producing meat in a lab only happen if the lab uses renewable or zero-emission energy to make its meat. If it’s coming from traditional fossil fuel-powered sources, then the footprint of a facility could actually be bigger than traditional animal husbandry.

It’s definitely something to chew on as more businesses scale up. Especially to meet the demand or reach the capacity of a traditional meat processing plant.

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