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You could soon be eating lab-grown chicken, as Bay Area firm gets FDA green light

Berkeley-based Upside Foods is trying to introduce a cell-cultured chicken product created in a bioreactor to the market. | Courtesy Upside Foods

Berkeley-based Upside Foods became the first cell-cultured meat company to receive a regulatory thumbs-up from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a major milestone in cell-cultivated meat’s march to the grocery store and dining room tables.

Upside Foods has received a “no questions” letter from the FDA for its chicken fillet, meaning that the regulator has found nothing unsafe about the cultured chicken product the company makes. 

Cell-cultivated meat is a growing industry that includes a number of local companies vying to have their products on grocery store shelves. SF-based firm Wildtype offers cultivated fish products, while Eat Just, also based in SF, won the first regulatory approval in the world to sell its own chicken product in Singapore. 

In the United States, these novel meat products are jointly regulated by the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Upside will now work with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service for the remaining approvals it needs before selling its products to consumers. 

“This milestone marks a major step towards a new era in meat production, and I’m thrilled that U.S. consumers will soon have the chance to eat delicious meat that’s grown directly from animal cells,” Upside founder and CEO Dr. Uma Valeti said in a statement. 

Upside, which was previously known as Memphis Meats, was started by Valeti, a trained cardiologist, with the idea of using biotechnology techniques to manufacture meat products in bioreactors. Some skeptics in the scientific community argue that these techniques are difficult to scale to a level that can make a real impact on traditional meat production. 

The startup has raised more than $600 million from investors including SoftBank, Temasek and Norwest Venture Partners. A $400 million Series C round, earlier this year boosted the company’s valuation to more than $1 billion. 

Last year, the company completed its Engineering, Production and Innovation Center (EPIC) facility in Emeryville, which is meant to function as a proof of concept for its model, with the stated ability to create some 50,000 pounds of meat products annually. 

Upside has also announced a partnership with renowned San Francisco chef Dominique Crenn, who will develop recipes and serve the company’s products at her award-winning Pacific Heights restaurant, Atelier Crenn, when it receives final regulatory approval. 

Kevin Truong can be reached at