By DOUG SCHMITZ
ALAMEDA, Calif. – While the USDA recently gave two food technology companies its approval to sell ‘lab-grown’ chicken to the American public, U.S. poultry experts are raising concerns about the long-term health impact of consuming cultivated meat.
In June, GOOD Meat, Inc., of Alameda, Calif. and Upside Foods of Berkeley, Calif., said they received USDA approval for labels for its product.
In March, GOOD Meat, the cultivated meat division of food technology company, Eat Just, Inc., received a ‘no questions’ letter from the FDA as part of one of the agency’s first pre-market consultations for a new kind of meat, poultry and seafood made from cells.
According to the letter, the FDA said GOOD Meat was satisfied the product is safe to sell in the United States. Last November, the FDA issued Upside Foods a similar letter. On June 8, GOOD Meat, Inc., announced it received the first-ever label approval for cultivated meat from the USDA.
Although the company and most of the industry said they prefer the term ‘cultivated,’ the initial label uses the term ‘cell-cultivated,’ Andrew Noyes, GOOD Meat vice president and head of global communications and public affairs, told Farm World.
“GOOD Meat’s first type of cultivated meat is chicken, which is what we recently won regulatory approval to sell commercially in the U.S.,” he said.
He said the company’s research team started off by identifying “the best chicken cells to produce cultivated meat.”
“We use chicken fibroblasts (a type of cell that contributes to the formation of connective tissue) and established cell banks as the starting point for every production run,” he said.
“These cells are then fed a nutrient-rich broth that includes amino acids, carbohydrates, minerals, fats and vitamins, which are the same types of nutrients animals need to grow,” he said. “The entire process takes place in a safe and controlled environment that looks like a beer brewery.”
After the company’s chicken cells are harvested from the cell culture tank (known as a bioreactor), he said, “They are mixed with co-ingredients and shaped into different meat formats, from crispy chicken bites and savory sausages, to more textured products such as shredded chicken or grilled chicken fillets.
“Instead of growing the entire animal, we only grow what we eat. This means we use fewer resources than conventional industrial animal agriculture to grow our meat, and we can be more efficient, completing growth in weeks rather than months or years,” he added.
When asked to describe the process of growing meat in a lab, he said, “Importantly, even at a small commercial scale, GOOD Meat is not ‘grown in a lab.’ Our meat is made in a USDA-approved food manufacturing facility similar to many other facilities that make various types of food we enjoy every day. The USDA does not inspect and issue grants of inspection to ‘labs.’
“We started as a plant-based company that wanted to make eggs from plants,” he added. “Once that was underway in our JUST Egg division, our CEO wanted to expand the company’s focus to include cultivated meat. We announced that the startup would be entering that nascent (a process or organization just coming into existence and beginning to display signs of future potential) sector in 2017.”
He said, “GOOD Meat cultivated chicken has 14g of protein per serving, as well as essential amino acids. It is also high in B vitamins, and is produced in an antibiotic-free environment. The specific nutrition profile varies for each of our consumer products.”
Immediately after receiving the grant of inspection, GOOD Meat production started for the first batch of cultivated chicken that will be sold to celebrated restaurateur Chef José Andrés.
Andrés, owner of José Andrés Group, which operates more than 30 restaurants across the country, previously shared a yet-to-be-disclosed restaurant in Washington, D.C. would be the first in the country to serve GOOD Meat’s cultivated chicken.
Tom Super, National Chicken Council senior vice president of communications, however, told Farm World “cell-cultured meat is new, and the longer-term impacts of its consumption on health are not yet known.”
“Because cell-cultured chicken has only just recently been approved for use in two countries (Singapore and the U.S.), there is little to no short- or long-term health data to review,” he said. “However, some health experts have raised concerns regarding the health impact of consuming lab-grown chicken.
“For example, one potential health concern that stands out is the cancer-promoting properties of cells that proliferate exponentially in vitro,” he added. “Consuming lab-grown meat with such faulty cell lines may have unwarranted effects on the human body, and the exact effects remain unknown.”
He said other issues include the potential health impacts of the introduction of antibiotics and fungicides, such as penicillin, streptomycin, and gentamicin used in cell cultures to prevent bacterial contamination.
“There may be risks of cross-contamination of one-cell line into another cell due to the use of multiple lines,” he said. “Cross-contamination can come from many sources, including poor maintenance of equipment, poor sanitation practices, incorrect storage of cells, working with multiple cell lines in one area, using the wrong cells, and incorrect labeling.
“Further research is necessary to assess the long-term implications of human consumption of cell-cultured chicken and meats,” he added.
“Currently, about 25,000 family farms partner with chicken companies to raise broiler chickens (chickens raised for meat, not eggs). In total, the industry directly employs 381,000 people, mostly in rural America,” he said.” The introduction of cell-cultured ‘meat’ puts in serious jeopardy the livelihoods of the hard-working people who produce food for our country.”
Kevin Stiles, executive director of the North Central Poultry Association in Urbandale, Iowa, said, “While in the early stages, we see it as critical that cell-cultured products like these be appropriately regulated, inspected, and most importantly, labeled by both the USDA and the FDA.
“Americans are on track to consume a record amount of chicken this year, and we don’t see that demand waning. We hear them say that they want their chicken raised on a farm, not in a laboratory.”