Daring AM: Oh, the Bioprinted Meat You Will Eat

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Food tech businesses are paving the way for new products to enter the restaurant and grocery markets. From new approvals for lab-grown chicken to recently released key food safety issues for cultivated meats, announcements around emerging food technologies in the first months of 2023 are promising.

En route to commercialization

Leading the wave of agri-food technologies is GOOD Meat, the cultivated meat division of California startup Eat Just, which has cleared a crucial step to bring cultivated meat to American consumers. After a careful and rigorous evaluation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has accepted GOOD Meat’s cultivated chicken as safe. The FDA’s “no questions” letter that the food firm received in March 2023 is part of one of the agency’s first pre-market consultations for a new kind of meat, poultry, and seafood made from cells instead of raised and slaughtered animals.

The company is now working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on necessary approvals before world-renowned chef and humanitarian José Andrés becomes the first in the country to offer GOOD Meat’s chicken to customers at his restaurants in Washington, D.C.

Anticipating that cell-based products could have a significant impact in the U.S., Senator Cory Booker, a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, visited Eat Just’s headquarters three weeks ago for a tour, tasting, and roundtable discussion about crucial issues facing the national food system. The New Jersey senator says he has eaten plant-based for 30 years and enjoys Eat Just’s JUST Egg brand.

Senator Cory Booker getting ready to try GOOD Meat cultivated chicken during his tour of the facility. Image courtesy of Eat Just.

“We were honored to serve him our historic GOOD Meat cultivated chicken, which broke the senator’s plant-based streak held since the 1990s. Senator Booker’s reaction: ‘It tastes phenomenal. Wow!’,” indicated Eat Just on a LinkedIn post. Hear his reflections on the Pod Save America episode here. 

Congressman Adam Schiff, also a vegan and JUST Egg fan, toured Eat Just’s facility this week and tasted the cultivated meat for the first time, which he called “a big part of solving the problem with our food system.”

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff tastes GOOD Meat cultivated chicken during his tour of the facility. Image courtesy of Eat Just.

The FDA’s decision comes two years after the historic approval and launch of GOOD Meat’s cultivated chicken in Singapore, which uses stem cells from chicken eggs that are then cultured and used to create a form of ink for 3D printing products that taste just as good as traditionally raised chickens.

Cultivated meat is widely accepted in Singapore, as per a 2022 Singapore Management University (SMU) study published in the peer-reviewed journal Appetite. Even though cultivated meat has still to make its debut in the U.S., a recent survey conducted by Farm Forward estimates that two-thirds of Americans (67%) would eat cultured meat grown in a lab setting, making it an instant hit among consumers and a tremendous market opportunity for companies like Eat Just.

GOOD Meat cultivated chicken with couscous and vegetables. Image courtesy of Eat Just

Although there has been a lot of hype surrounding the FDA’s latest decision, it is not the first time the agency has taken a stand about cultivated meats. News of Eat Just’s FDA green light came just months after competing California startup Upside Foods received a nod from the FDA for its grown meat, the first cell-based product in its category to complete the agency’s pre-market consultation for human food using animal cell culture technology.

Eat Just has been around since 2011 when founders Josh Tetrick and Josh Balk decided to venture into vegan mayo, eggs from plants, and overall plant-based alternatives to conventionally-produced egg products. Today, with over $465 million in funding under its belt, the business is looking to build a more sustainable food system that makes it easy for people to eat better.

Food safety considerations

In other exciting news for the future of food, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a report on cultivated meat, which provides scientific advice and guidance to policymakers and industry stakeholders on the regulation and safety of this emerging technology.

Potential risks from cultivated foods were identified by the FAO and World Health Organization (WHO) in a report released last week. Aiming to help regulatory agencies develop frameworks for approval and safety protocols for cultivated meat, the organizations expressed the need to “capture key food safety issues” before these products become widely available. And that timing could be closer than expected, mainly since the document counts more than 100 companies and startups already developing cell-based food products that are ripe for commercialization and awaiting approval.

“Common techniques to achieve structure and texture in cell-based food products include shear-cell technology, extrusion or 3D-printing, depending on the desired final product type,” states the paper.

Companies like biotech research firm NouBio have shared their excitement over the FAO’s new document on social media, claiming it is an important step forward in developing and regulating cell-based food technologies.

From lab-grown meats to plant-based alternatives, the food tech industry has wowed us with some innovative creations to disrupt one of the biggest industries on the planet. Considering that the role of 3D printing in the future of food has gained so much prominence, it only makes sense that the technology will become as accepted as the end products we are closer than ever to tasting.

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