The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken the first step for the United States to become the third country in the world -after Israel and Singapore- to allow its citizens to ‘ enjoy’ products made from meat grown in a laboratory from cells of animal origin. In a statement made public last Wednesday, the FDA established that after evaluating “the information presented by Upside Foods”, it considers that the foods made with cultured chicken cells from this American company are safe for human consumption.
This is not to say that Upside Foods’ lab-grown chicken meat will be found in every supermarket in America tomorrow, or that any other company that wants to make cultured meat products can just sell it starting today. Things are not going to be so easy or so fast.
From the factory to the plate
This product will not yet reach the consumer, since the facilities where it is made have to be inspected and certified
Although the FDA stated that it is holding “conversations with various companies” to do the same, including companies that want to grow shellfish from cells of marine animals, the truth is that – according to US law – each product must be approved individually. Even Upside Foods will have to seek FDA clearance for every new product it wants to market.
In addition, the very company that just got the go-ahead from the US administration still has a long way to go before reaching the tables of consumers across the country. The facility in which the chicken is manufactured must meet the requirements of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the FDA. In addition, such facilities must be inspected by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service and the product itself requires a USDA mark of inspection.
An ultra-regulated process
The US cell culture technology regulation is made in collaboration and in close partnership between the FDA and the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service for foods made from cells of cultured livestock or poultry. Both agencies agreed that the FDA oversees cell collection, cell banking, and cell growth and differentiation. The FDA’s approach to regulating products derived from cultured animal cells involves a thorough pre-market consultation process. While this is not considered an approval process, it is concluded when all relevant questions for the query are resolved. For his part, he oversees the post-harvest processing and labeling of animal cell-derived food products for human consumption, to ensure these products are accurately labeled.
It also remains to be seen how consumers receive this new product, because, for example, companies that make imitation meat based on vegetable protein have received much more attention -and investment- than commercial success and have not even revolutionized the market. sector as promised they would.
It is also no coincidence that the first commercial examples of cultured meat have been with chicken meat. Cultured meat does not have fat or connective tissue, without blood, which is what gives color and flavor to the meat and therefore requires the addition of dyes and other additives. In chicken meat, which is paler in color, this problem is significantly reduced.
Steps to grow meat
Manufacturers start with a sample of cells from an animal’s tissue, a process that requires no harm or death to the animal. Some cells from the sample are selected, analyzed, and cultured to form a “bank” of cells that are stored for later use.
A small number of cells are removed from the cell bank and placed in a strictly controlled and monitored environment that supports cell growth and multiplication by providing appropriate nutrients and other factors.
After the cells have multiplied, additional substances (for example, protein growth factors or additional nutrients) are added to the controlled environment to allow the cells to differentiate into various types and assume the characteristics of muscle, fat, or tissue cells. conjunctive.
Once the cells have differentiated into the desired type, the cellular material can be collected from the controlled environment and prepared using conventional food processing and packaging methods.
The arguments in favor of this type of meat are that it is unethical that millions of animals have to suffer and die to feed us. On the contrary, it is argued that it is not necessary to slaughter any animal to grow meat. This is only half true, as it depends on the type of cell growth factors used. In the case of chicken, they can be obtained from a feather.
But in the production of bovine meat, factors of vegetable origin are sometimes used and, in other cases, bovine serum, which, in addition to being very expensive, requires killing an animal to obtain it. What these nutrients are, in what proportion they must be administered and how and from which plant they are obtained is usually the great secret and object of the patent, which constitutes the real business of all alternative products to meat.
On the other hand, it is also argued that the production of animal protein by conventional means has a great impact on the environment -it is held responsible for a high percentage of emissions- and it is also doubted that the current animal production system farm can sustainably feed a world population expected to reach 10.4 billion by 2100.
Those who defend this nutritional solution affirm that cows are very inefficient as meat producers due to the amount of resources they consume to produce a kilo of meat. But there are also studies that say that the energy and fossil fuel consumption of large-scale production of cultured meat is worse environmentally than traditional production.
In the world there are about 150 companies dedicated to the production of what is known as clean meat (clean meat) The basic process has long been used to, for example, produce xanthan gum (an additive) in bioreactors. Dutch pharmacologist Mark Post was the first to create a hamburger from cells, in August 2013. Post biopsied animal cells and grew them in a bioreactor into meat to make a hamburger. The invention to produce a single unit cost $250,000.