Just months after the FDA’s approval of lab-grown meat products from two California companies, experts assert that challenges remain before this “cultivated” food alternative could make it to local supermarkets and Americans’ kitchens and dining room tables. In addition, some stress that consumers need to know much more about the production process.
In 2023, two companies received both USDA and FDA approval to sell cultivated meat: Upside Foods and GOOD Meats, both headquartered in California.
So far, only cultured chicken is approved to be sold and served, noted New Jersey-based registered dietitian Lauren Harris-Pincus, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com and author of “The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook.”
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“It will be a while before any lab-grown meat appears in the supermarket,” she told Fox News Digital in an interview.
Dr. Brett Osborn, a Florida neurologist and longevity expert, was direct in his assessment.
Lab-grown meat, he said, is “the stuff of science-fiction films” and a “disruptive technology” in the food industry.
He told Fox News Digital, “This innovative approach to meat production offers a range of potential benefits, but it is not without challenges.”
Those “challenges” are partly why one Washington, D.C.-based think tank is working to educate Americans about how lab-grown meat is created — and why consumers might want to be cautious as more companies throw their hat in this ring.
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“The Biden FDA’s approval of lab-grown meat is a very, very big deal,” Jack Hubbard of the Center for the Environment & Welfare told Fox News Digital, “especially in light of the fact that Italy has recently banned it.”
The School Lunch Integrity Act of 2024 seeks to ban lab-grown meat from the federal school-lunch program.
France recently introduced a proposed ban as well, he noted — “while a coalition of 12 countries has formed a ‘culinary alliance’ against lab-grown meat.”
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In the U.S., “state legislators in Texas, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Missouri and Arizona have introduced legislation to either label or ban lab-grown meat. And Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, and Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, recently introduced bipartisan federal legislation to ban it from the school lunch program,” said Hubbard, referencing The School Lunch Integrity Act of 2024.
Hubbard mentioned “the use of immortalized cells” in lab-grown meat. The cells “replicate in perpetuity, almost mimicking the behavior of cancer,” he said. “For a lot of people, this really triggers the ‘yuck factor.’”
His group also sees the recent push for lab-grown meat “as part of an anti-farmer, anti-farming agenda,” he said.
“People are trying to grow this material in a lab and serve it to the American public. And I think that the public is going to have some serious and legitimate concerns about it.”
He added that as a father of four and speaking personally, “I would not serve this to my kids.”
What is lab-grown meat?
Different from plant-based meat substitutes, lab-grown meat — or cultivated meat, the term preferred by the companies producing it — is created in a facility from the cells of animals.
Although the end product is genuine animal meat, with a look and taste similar to the real thing, it is created without the need to raise and farm animals.
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Scientists harvest stem cells from the animal, place these cells in tanks or vessels, and “grow” them by adding nutrients, proteins and other supplements, according to the Good Food Institute (GFI), a nonprofit think tank. During the production process, these cells are transformed into actual muscle, fat and tissues — which can then be harvested and packaged as meat products.
The entire process can take between two and eight weeks, per GFI.
GOOD Meat, one of the companies that has gotten FDA approval for its cultivated chicken, shared its process with Fox News Digital.
“After our chicken cells are harvested from the cell culture tank (known as a bioreactor), they are mixed with other plant-based 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 filets,” a company spokesperson said.
The cells are then fed a “nutrient-rich, plant-based broth that includes amino acids, carbohydrates, minerals, fats and vitamins,” the spokesperson said.
“The entire process takes place in a safe and controlled environment that looks like a beer brewery.”
Upside Foods, the other producer of cultivated meat that has received FDA approval, uses a similar method, according to its description of the process.
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“In essence, we try to recreate the conditions that naturally exist inside an animal’s body,” a company spokesperson said.
“Once the meat is ready, we remove it from the cultivators and then cook or prepare it like you would any other meat product.”
Proponents of lab-grown meat cite potential benefits for both the environment and animal welfare.
“Cultivated meat is a way to satisfy rising global demand without harming a single animal,” GOOD Meat said in a statement to Fox News Digital.
“It also has the potential to reduce the devastating environmental impact of conventional animal agriculture,” the spokesperson said — adding that factory farming contributes to “deforestation, biodiversity loss and enormous greenhouse gas emissions.”
A spokesperson from Upside Foods claimed that the three main benefits of cultivated meat are “environmental sustainability, animal welfare and human health.”
“When you consider the impact of industrial animal agriculture today, it’s alarming to realize that it accounts for nearly 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, uses up to one-third of the world’s arable land and water, and slaughters 70+ billion animals per year,” the spokesperson told Fox News Digital.
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Both companies also warned of the use of “excessive antibiotics” in animal agriculture.
“This is especially concerning when you take into account that the demand for meat is projected to double by 2050,” the Upside Foods spokesperson said. “Cultivated meat can help address these challenges by providing a more sustainable and humane way to meet the world’s growing demand for meat.”
Supply chain efficiency is another potential benefit, as a GOOD Meat spokesperson said.
“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.”
“We only grow what we eat. This means we use fewer resources.”
Osborn, the Florida neurologist and longevity expert, agreed that cultivated meat could have some potential benefits.
Beyond the reduced environmental footprint, he said lab-grown meat could help ensure food security by providing a stable food supply that is “far less susceptible to vulnerabilities such as disease outbreaks that threaten typical livestock.”
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“Additionally, lab-grown meat could revolutionize animal welfare by eliminating the need for raising and slaughtering animals,” Osborn added.
It could also reduce the need for antibiotics, which could lower antibiotic resistance in humans, he said — which he cited as a “significant cause of morbidity and mortality in hospitalized patients.”
Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical contributor, also pointed out a few upsides of lab-grown meat.
“There is a much lower risk of infectious contamination, as animals raised for food are often raised in squalor,” he told Fox News Digital.
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“It’s also a very similar protein source — and the fat content can be better controlled.”
Risks and challenges
Registered dietitian Pincus of New Jersey noted that while lab-grown meat could potentially decrease the carbon footprint and environmental impact of meat production, “the true impact of a large-scale operation is not clear.”
Although she doesn’t envision health risks if lab-grown meat is biologically identical to traditional animal products, she noted that it may not have the same nutritional value.
“This meat is very pricey and will cost substantially more than conventionally farmed meat.”
“While the protein may be biologically equivalent, other nutritional components of animal meat that accumulate in the muscle are affected by the diet of the animal and would not automatically be found in lab grown meat,” she told Fox News Digital.
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“Also, this meat is very pricey and will cost substantially more than conventionally farmed meat,” Pincus added.
She also said it is “not going to be an accessible and affordable option for most people anytime soon.”
Michelle Routhenstein, a New York City-based cardiology dietitian at EntirelyNourished.com, noted that while there are currently no notable health risks linked to lab-grown meat, “caution is advised until further research is conducted to ensure its safety — particularly concerning allergens, microbial contamination and potential long-term health impacts.”
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Osborn agreed that the cost of production is one of the biggest challenges associated with lab-grown meat.
“The cost is currently higher than conventionally farmed meat, limiting its accessibility to consumers,” he told Fox News Digital.
There is the risk of contamination in the production process by metals and chemicals.
“Some consumers may also find that lab-grown meat has a different taste or texture than traditional meat — potentially impacting its market penetrance,” he said.
“More simply, the taste for real animal meat was written into our genes 150,000 years ago — so it takes some time to unwind these tendencies,” Osborn said.
There is also the risk of contamination in the production process by metals and chemicals, Siegel of New York City said.
In May 2023, a study by researchers at UC Davis in California showed that lab-grown meat actually may not be more environmentally friendly, Siegel pointed out — “because the elaborate production process burns more greenhouse gases, causing more pollution than the methane released by the animals.”
Food or pharma?
In the UC Davis study, the researchers compared the process of cultivating meat to the biotechnology used to create pharmaceuticals.
“If companies are having to purify growth media to pharmaceutical levels, it uses more resources, which then increases global warming potential,” said lead author and doctoral graduate Derrick Risner, UC Davis Department of Food Science and Technology, in a press release.
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“If this product continues to be produced using the ‘pharma’ approach, it’s going to be worse for the environment and more expensive than conventional beef production,” he warned.
“Our findings suggest that cultured meat is not inherently better for the environment than conventional beef. It’s not a panacea.”
In comparing the energy needed and greenhouse gases emitted in both processes, the UC Davis researchers concluded that lab-grown meat using “purified” ingredients produces anywhere from four to 25 times more global warming than traditional methods.
“Our findings suggest that cultured meat is not inherently better for the environment than conventional beef. It’s not a panacea,” said corresponding author Edward Spang, an associate professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology, in the UC Davis release.
“It’s possible we could reduce its environmental impact in the future, but it will require significant technical advancement to simultaneously increase the performance and decrease the cost of the cell culture media.”
Fox News Digital reached out to the UC Davis researchers for additional comment.
“Overall, lab-grown meat holds great promise in terms of sustainability, animal welfare and reduced environmental impact,” Osborn said. “Nevertheless, it faces challenges related to cost, technological development, consumer acceptance and regulatory issues that, if addressed, could open the door to this potentially ever-sustainable food source.”
“There are no studies on its long-term health effects.”
Fox News Digital also reached out to the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation requesting their perspective on this alternate form of meat production.
Hubbard of the Center for the Environment & Welfare in D.C. noted that there is right now “a fast-growing petition” on change.org to keep lab-grown meat out of school cafeterias. As of Thursday evening, more than 18,000 people have signed it.
Parents are concerned about this experimental food known as lab-grown meat, the petition says, because “there are no studies on its long-term health effects” and “companies don’t have to disclose what exactly is used in the chemical growth serum,” among other reasons.
It also notes, “Lab-grown meat is not something that has ever been in the human diet, and yet its advocates are deceptively calling it ‘clean meat’ and acting like it’s a better substitute for natural meat from a farm.”
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