UPSIDE Foods, the leading cultivated meat, poultry and seafood company, became the first company in the world to receive a "No Questions" letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for cultivated meat, poultry, or seafood. The letter signals that the FDA has accepted UPSIDE's conclusion that its cultivated chicken is safe to eat. The agency issued this letter today following a rigorous evaluation.
"This is a watershed moment in the history of food," said Dr. Uma Valeti, CEO and Founder of UPSIDE Foods. "We started UPSIDE amid a world full of skeptics, and today, we've made history again and I'm thrilled that U.S. consumers will soon have the chance to eat delicious meat that's grown directly from animal cells."
This announcement comes after a series of milestones as UPSIDE Foods approaches commercialization, including a $400M Series C placing their valuation at over $1 billion, the acquisition of cultivated seafood company Cultured Decadence, a partnership with three-Michelin starred chef Dominique Crenn, and the opening of its Engineering, Production, and Innovation Center (EPIC), one of the world's most advanced cultivated meat production facilities.
It’s a major step forward for the so-called cultivated meat industry, whose companies grow meat from animal cells in large bioreactors without the need for slaughter. While more than 100 companies worldwide have been working on these products, none has yet been allowed to sell its products in the U.S.
In order to land on restaurant menus and grocery shelves, however, cultivated meat products must gain approval from both the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture. In the case of Upside, this week’s decision — a “No Questions” letter from the FDA following a lengthy evaluation period — means the company will next be vetted by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Just as the USDA would inspect a factory farm and its birds, the agency will evaluate Upside’s manufacturing facilities and meat before any potential sale.
Cultivated meat, or cultured meat as it’s sometimes called, differs from tech-driven, realistic plant-based meats like those from Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. Cultivated meat is, in fact, meat, derived from cells originally harvested from live animals. There are several Bay Area companies in this field, including Eat Just, which has been working on chicken nuggets and Wagyu, and Wildtype, which specializes in salmon. Even without regulatory approval, they’ve drawn major investments — Upside is valued at over $1 billion — and partnerships with celebrity chefs like Dominique Crenn. Supporters say these lab-grown meats are environmentally superior to animal agriculture.
Animal agriculture is responsible for roughly 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with the majority coming from cattle, according to the United Nations. Lab-grown meat is so new that studies thus far are often speculative — and mixed. A 2021 University of Oxford study found cultivated meat could generate up to 96% lower greenhouse gas emissions, 96% lower water use and 99% lower land use, depending on the type of meat. Other research suggests it may be unrealistic to scale up production to compete with commodity meat on price and make a meaningful impact.
Upside unveiled its huge $50 million production facility in Emeryville last year, stating it was ready for commercial scale as soon as it gained regulatory approval. The company plans to introduce its chicken to the public through chefs at high-end restaurants before eventually rolling it out to grocery stores.
So far, Singapore is the only country to allow cultivated meat sales, specifically of chicken made by fellow Bay Area company Eat Just. That company has also announced plans to build what are believed to be the world’s largest and most complex bioreactors for growing meat.