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New GMO Alert: The Downside of Upside Foods

Cell Cultured, CRISPR Enabled, and Ready to Feed the 1% Last month to much fanfare, the USDA issued its approval, […]

New GMO Alert: The Downside of Upside Foods

Cell Cultured, CRISPR Enabled, and Ready to Feed the 1% Last month to much fanfare, the USDA issued its approval, […]

Cell Cultured, CRISPR Enabled, and Ready to Feed the 1%

Last month to much fanfare, the USDA issued its approval, in the form of Grants of Inspection (GOIs), to the first products (i.e., chicken) from two cell-cultured meat developers – Upside Foods and Eat Just – paving the way for these products to be made commercially available in the U.S. This comes on the heels of the FDA’s “No Question” determinations for both companies in response to their self-evaluations of safety, first for Upside Foods in November 2022, and then for Eat Just in March 2023. Under the GOIs, the specified on-pack labeling requirement for these two products is “cell-cultivated chicken.”

For the most part, the development of cell-cultured meat and seafood has been shrouded in secrecy, primarily due to the cutting-edge nature of the technology, significant amount of investment at stake, and fierce competition across the field. The Non-GMO Project has been monitoring this development almost since the technology’s inception through several nomenclature pivots (e.g., in vitro meat, clean meat, cell-cultured meat), looking for signs that developers might turn to genetic engineering at some point in the process in order to enable the technology and/or facilitate the scale-up necessary for commercialization. 

One of the two developers receiving USDA approval, Upside Foods (formerly Memphis Meats), has explored using CRISPR to help facilitate and augment product development. Overall, the company (either as Upside Foods or Memphis Meats) has filed a number of patents related to genetic engineering and the production of cell-cultured meat. 

In 2017, Memphis Meats submitted a patent involving the use of CRISPR to extend the ability of cells to replicate during cultivation. A 2018 patent assigned to Upside Foods details methods for increasing the efficiency of cell cultures through the development and use of engineered cells.  And although Upside Foods has been somewhat circumspect about stating whether their first USDA-approved offering is or is not the product of genetic engineering, on the Innovation page of the company’s website, it touts a 2018 patent to protect “a GE method for increasing cell density.” 

Another developer of cell-cultured meat (i.e., beef), SciFi Foods, which emerged from stealth mode in June of 2022 after rebranding from Artemys Foods, has been more transparent about its use of CRISPR in the development process. In July 2022, SciFi Foods announced that it was able to reduce its production costs 1,000-fold through the use of genetic engineering. The company is planning to open a pilot plant in the San Francisco Bay Area by the end of 2024. Its first product release is expected to be a plant-based cell-cultured meat hybrid burger. 

Even with the first two USDA approvals of cell-cultured meat, the ability of the average consumer to access these products in the immediate future will be limited. Upside Foods announced that it will debut its first product in partnership with the Michelin-star chef Dominique Crenn in bespoke dishes at her San Francisco restaurant Atelier Crenn. In 2021, the tasting menu at Atelier Crenn ranged in price from approximately $350 to $500 per person. There are no immediate plans for these products to be sold retail.

In fact, experts are beginning to ratchet back their initial optimistic projections with regard to the availability and impact of cell-cultured meat, including its having a tangible impact on the production and consumption of meat by 2030. Also reframed are projections regarding the production and availability of integrated, structured cuts of meat such as steaks, with more cell-cultured meat developers discussing the prospect of introducing hybrid products in which the cell-cultured meat is but an ingredient in a primarily plant-based meat analog.

The Non-GMO Project’s Standard defines all crops and products developed using biotechnology, including new gene-editing techniques, as GMOs. We share this information to further one of the Project’s primary goals of creating greater transparency in the supply chain, ensuring you have the information you need to make the best choices for you, your brand, and your family. 

Please note that the information herein is for general informational purposes only and is based on the linked sources above.

The Non-GMO Project is a 510c3 nonprofit dedicated to protecting and promoting non-GMO alternatives. New GMO Alerts is supported by funding from readers like you. Donate today.

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