The USDA approved the sale of lab-grown chicken in the US (Credit: UPSIDE Foods)

On June 21, 2023, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) granted its first-ever approval of cell-cultured meat. The assent is restricted to products made by GOOD Meat and UPSIDE Foods. It was the final step the California-based startups needed to sell their lab-grown chicken in the US.

As you might have guessed, lab-grown meat is not sourced from traditional animal farming. Instead, it is produced by collecting cells from live animals and cultivating them in a controlled laboratory environment. The process involves nurturing the isolated cells with vitamins and amino acids. This helps them multiply and develop into muscle tissue. The resulting product replicates the taste and texture of conventionally farmed meat.

The USDA approval comes at a crucial time in our quest to slow the impact of global warming. According to the United Nations, livestock production is responsible for 14.6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. A 2022 study from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that phasing out animal agriculture could help halt the increase of greenhouse gases for 30 years. This would provide us enough time to repair the damage we have caused thus far.

Livestock farms also contribute to deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution. Additionally, animals raised for food production are often treated inhumanely. Lab-grown meat may help alleviate all the issues and provide an environmentally-friendly way to make meat.

The lab-grown chicken is currently available in only a few US restaurants (Credit: UPSIDE Foods)

However, before you dash out to your nearest supermarket in search of the new chicken, note that neither company is ready for mass production. UPSIDE Foods, which has the country's largest production facility, currently makes only 50,000 (22,680 kg) pounds of meat per year. This is the equivalent of about 10,000 chickens — only a fraction of the eight billion birds Americans consume annually. Hence, for now, the products are only available at a select few restaurants around the country.

But there are currently over 100 companies working on various iterations of cultivated meat. They range from beef to seafood. So, we can all be assured that sustainable and cruelty-free meat production is in our future.