Animal agriculture makes up nearly 15% of human-caused global greenhouse-gas emissions. A growing number of companies are working to bring alternatives to market that have the potential to cut emissions.
Most meat alternatives on the market today are made using plants. Upside Foods, Eat Just, and other cultivated-meat companies instead make products using animal cells that are grown in bioreactors. Tissue samples from living animals are isolated and their cells grown in a lab. As those cells grow and multiply, they can be processed into food.
Singapore was the first country to approve cultured meat, giving Good Meat, the cultivated-meat division of Eat Just, the green light to sell its cultivated chicken in 2020. Eat Just was founded in 2011, and the company also makes plant-based products, including an egg alternative.
Today’s pair of approvals are first of their kind in the US.
“It’s cool to see an idea become an industry,” says Eric Schulze, VP of product and regulation at Upside Foods. Upside was founded in 2015 as Memphis Meats and has since been developing its technology and working to gain regulatory approval.
Both the Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture have a say in the regulation of meat in the US. In November 2022, Upside Foods received a no-questions letter from the Food and Drug Administration, the final signoff on food products from that agency. Eat Just received its FDA signoff in March 2023.
In June, the USDA granted approval for both companies’ labels, which allows them to sell their products under the name “cell-cultivated chicken.” Today’s green light is a grant of inspection, which allows the companies to start up their production facilities. With all these approvals in hand, Upside Foods and Eat Just can produce and sell their products to the public.
Getting signoff from US regulators is a major milestone for the industry, says Po Bronson, general partner at SOSV, Upside’s first venture capital investor. “Making sure food is safe is really important,” Bronson says. “It’s absolutely necessary, and we wouldn’t have a future industry without it.”
Each company plans to launch in restaurants before moving to retail sales. Eat Just’s cultivated chicken will be sold first at an undisclosed restaurant in Washington, DC. Schulze said that Upside’s products, which it produces in a pilot facility in California, should be available by the end of the summer at Bar Crenn, a San Francisco restaurant.
“It’s an incredible, historic moment,” Schulze says. “The next giant hurdle is scaling up. Frankly, that’s what matters.”