Cultured Meat Turkey to Your Table?

A regulatory pact between FDA and USDA may help speed up getting lab-grown meats to your local supermarket.



Turkey grown in bioreactors may someday grace American tables to mark our annual Thanksgiving celebration. The number of companies aiming to bring lab-grown meat and poultry to our supermarkets is rapidly proliferating. Also known as cellular agriculture, the technology involves producing meat from cultured animal muscle and fat cells by growing them in a bioreactor rather than harvesting steaks and chops from slaughtered livestock on a farm. These include Israel-based Future Meat Technologies (chicken), Silicon Valley-based Memphis Meats (duck and chicken), Tel Aviv-based Supermeat (chicken), Netherlands-based Mosa Meat (beef and pork), and San Francisco-based The Wild Type (salmon), among others.

The goal is produce "clean meat" using less land, water, and feed, and a product that is cheaper than conventional meat. For example, Memphis Meats claims that it can grow animal-free products using just 1 percent of the land and 1 percent of the water consumed by conventional meat producers. Future Meat Technologies believes that it can cut the cost of cellular agriculture to about $2.30 to $4.50 a pound by 2020. The price of a pound of ground chuck averaged $3.70 last month.

Good news is that last week, the murky regulatory environment for clean meat in the U.S. was clarified when the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced how the two agencies plan to oversee the commercialization of cultured meat products. In a statement, the two agencies agreed on "a joint regulatory framework wherein FDA oversees cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth and differentiation. A transition from FDA to USDA oversight will occur during the cell harvest stage. USDA will then oversee the production and labeling of food products derived from the cells of livestock and poultry."

If the framework that the two agencies develop really turn out to be not too onerous, some companies ambitiously claim that their products could hit supermarkets before Thanksgiving next year.