Inside The Struggle To Make Lab-Grown Meat

Inside the Struggle to Make Lab-Grown Meat Eric Schulze, Upside’s vice president of global scientific and regulatory affairs, said that it’s nearly time to eat cultivated meat.

Prospects for lab-grown meat to land on American dinner plates got a boost last fall when the Food and Drug Administration for the first time declared cultivated chicken, grown by Upside Foods, safe to eat. 

“It’s nearly time to eat cultivated meat,” Eric Schulze, Upside’s vice president of global scientific and regulatory affairs, said on Twitter as the company toasted the milestone with Champagne emojis. “Our Upside chicken is coming to consumers very soon.” 

Since its founding in 2015, Berkeley, Calif.-based Upside has grown from little-known startup to darling of the cultivated-meat industry, valued at $1 billion and backed by investors including Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Kimbal Musk and the meat giants Tyson Foods Inc. and Cargill Inc. Globally, more than 150 companies in the sector have raised $2.8 billion to date.

While Upside and others have long been able to grow small amounts of meat from cells, making larger volumes at low cost is proving much harder, according to interviews with current and former Upside employees, industry officials, investors and outside scientists.

Many are skeptical that cultivated-meat companies—which rely on expensive technology to make a low-price commodity—will be able to produce meat affordable enough to make a meaningful dent soon in the more than $1 trillion global meat market. 

They expect hybrid products, often made with animal cells and other ingredients such as plant-based protein, to have a quicker, less costly path to market.

“We can make it on small scales successfully,” said Josh Tetrick, chief executive officer of a rival food-technology company, Eat Just Inc., of Alameda, Calif., which in March received the second FDA nod that its cultivated chicken is safe to eat. “What is uncertain is whether we and other companies will be able to produce this at the largest of scales, at the lowest of costs within the next decade.”

Mr. Tetrick said Eat Just’s Good Meat unit sells less than 5,000 pounds annually of its hybrid cultivated chicken in Singapore, the only country that now allows the sale of lab-grown meat to consumers. By comparison, global meat production is expected this year to top 350 million metric tons. 

The states considering legislation to introduce controversial mRNA technology targeting livestock include North Dakota, Tennessee, Arizona, Idaho, and Missouri.

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