USDA Approves Sale Of Lab-Grown Meat From 2 Companies, Both Backed By Bill Gates

This development is being marketed as a solution to environmental concerns and the ever-growing demand for meat around the country, but many people are skeptical about the claims.

By Gina Florio3 min read
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The future of food is fast approaching, and it doesn't involve a farm. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recently approved the production and sale of lab-grown chicken products by companies Upside Foods and Good Meat. This is being reported as a significant step towards a novel solution to meet the growing demand for meat while reducing the associated environmental impact and ethical concerns surrounding animal slaughter.

USDA Approves Sale of Lab-Grown Meat from 2 Companies

Lab-grown meat, also known as cell-based or cultivated meat, is produced directly from animal cells, cultivated in bioreactors with the help of nutrients like amino acids. Picture massive, brewery-like vats rather than petri dishes in sterile laboratories. Once ready, the meat is collected from the bioreactors and processed. According to Andrew Noyes, Head of Global Communications at Good Meat parent company, Eat Just, the extracted protein closely resembles minced chicken.

Several factors make this scientific innovation notable. First, the process eliminates the need for animal slaughter, paving the way for meat production that doesn't require any animals. Secondly, proponents of lab-grown meat claim that there are significant environmental benefits. Traditional animal agriculture contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. Bruce Friedrich, President of the Good Food Institute, acknowledged the high energy needs of producing cultivated meat but he claims that these requirements could be offset by reductions in land and water use and other environmental benefits, especially with the use of renewable energy.

Despite using animal cells, cultivated meat isn't vegetarian as it still relies on animal-based inputs. One identified advantage is its reduced risk of contamination. As it's grown from cells and not from animals with intestines, cultivated meat should be free from common bacterial contaminants like E. coli and salmonella.

The taste of lab-grown meat reportedly closely resembles traditional meat. Reporters who tried products from Ivy Farm Technologies, Upside Foods, and Good Meat confirm a full and savory flavor, although the texture might slightly differ.

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service granted its approval after a rigorous process evaluating the companies' food safety systems. To date, only chicken products have been approved. For any other animal protein, a separate regulatory process would be needed.

Production is expected to start soon, with restaurant availability anticipated earlier than supermarkets. Upside Foods and Good Meat have not released exact dates, but their plans include initial restaurant launches in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., respectively. As production scales up, partnerships with other restaurants and potential retail launches may follow.

The cost of producing lab-grown meat remains high. The first lab-grown burger, produced a decade ago, cost over $300,000. Though this cost has decreased significantly, it remains considerably higher than traditional meat production. Good Meat's Noyes noted that achieving price parity was a significant challenge but believed that there is a viable pathway.

Despite the high production costs, initial consumer prices are anticipated to be comparable to current meat prices. Noyes emphasized that Good Meat was taking a loss in the initial stages, prioritizing customer experience over immediate profit. Upside Foods also anticipates its product to be sold at a premium compared to traditional chicken but has not disclosed its production cost. While the recent approval of lab-grown meat is seen as an exciting leap forward for humanity, cultivated meat companies need to demonstrate scalable, repeatable models while ensuring a return on investment.

These 2 Companies Are Backed by Bill Gates

Eat Just, originally called Hampton Creek, owns the brand Good Meat. It also produces vegan mayonnaise. Its goal is to make the egg irrelevant, replacing it with a plant-based substitute that is more economical, cholesterol-free, and less dependent on animal farming. The company was started in 2011 when Tetrick invested $37,000 of his own money into the startup named after his friend's dog. Despite the odds, Tetrick has proved his resilience and grit, leading Eat Just to become one of the unique startups nestled in the former warehouses south of San Francisco's Market Street. Unlike traditional software companies, Eat Just has biochemists working side by side with chefs, creating innovative food products from plant solutions.

An important detail about Good Meat's parent company: it is backed heavily by Bill Gates, who selected Eat Just (then called Hampton Creek) because he believed it could revolutionize the food industry.

Then there's Upside Foods, previously known as Memphis Meats. When it completed its Series C funding round in 2022, it amassed a record $400M at a valuation exceeding $1B, marking it the largest funding round ever in the cultivated meat industry. This round was co-led by global investment company Temasek and the Abu Dhabi Growth Fund (ADG). Notably, the investors' list includes tech and investing tycoons like Bill Gates, Cargill, SoftBank Vision Fund 2, and Tyson Foods.

The funds raised went towards constructing Upside Foods' commercial production facility capable of producing tens of millions of pounds of cultivated meat products annually. This facility can produce any species of meat, both ground and whole cut formats, with an initial focus on chicken. The funds will also support the development of a robust supply chain for critical cell feed components to reduce costs and enable greater scalability.

Gates has been interested in plant-based meat and lab-grown meat for a long time. In an interview with MIT Technology Review, he stated, "I do think all rich countries should move to 100% synthetic beef," citing the potential for taste improvements and behavioral or regulatory changes that could shift demand.

Gates' stance on synthetic meat is controversial, particularly for its implication of broad societal change by mandate. Critics argue that Gates is exercising undue influence, with his investments and donations swaying the narrative towards a vision of the future that may not be universally acceptable.

Colin Woodall, CEO of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, pushed back on Gates' comments, saying "the reality of fake meat is far different from the utopian fantasy he is selling." He argued that in countries like the United States, economic disparity poses significant barriers to the widespread adoption of synthetic meat. Limiting options or enforcing expensive alternatives, as per Woodall, echoes Gates' "elitist thinking."

Woodall highlighted the important role of the traditional meat industry in providing local, accessible protein and supporting families across more than 800,000 farms and ranches in the U.S alone. Moreover, he stated these farms and ranches contribute positively to climate change mitigation by acting as carbon sinks and heat absorbers.

It's concerning that Gates has so much influence over the food industry, and now that the USDA has approved these two companies to create lab-grown meat, we can only assume that this space is going to keep growing and we'll continue to see more emphasis placed on synthetic meat.

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