Upside Foods, a producer of lab-cultivated meat, responds to the claims made against lab-grown meat by a recent MIT Technology Review article.

Rachel French, Contributing writer

February 15, 2024

3 Min Read
lab-grown chicken

At a Glance

  • MIT Technology Review criticizes lab-grown meat, highlighting challenges in production scalability and high costs.
  • The article uses Upside Foods’ chicken product as an example, but the CEO defends their progress and future plans.
  • Upside Foods is focused on expanding availability while continuing to work on reducing costs, improving production processes.

An article published by MIT Technology Review in December dubbed lab-grown meat one of the “worst technology failures” of 2023, citing such concerns as difficulty scaling production of products and high finished product costs.

The article went further to call out Upside Foods’ whole textured cultivated chicken product, which is among the first lab-cultivated meat products to make inroads with regulators in the United States.

In 2022, FDA told the company after conducting a pre-market consultation that the agency had “no further questions” about the product’s safety. In June 2023, Upside Foods received label approval from USDA.

The MIT Technology Review article alleged Upside Foods was producing its textured chicken product by growing thin layers of chicken skin cells in laboratory flasks, which are then manually pressed into chicken pieces — versus growing the chicken breast products in bioreactors.

In a response published by MIT Technology Review, Upside Foods CEO Uma Valeti said the article failed to provide “an accurate picture of the progress of cultivated meat” and “the right context for Upside’s first product.”

Further, Valeti explained that “Upside has successfully and repeatedly demonstrated that we can scale our suspension technology to make delicious ground-textured and blended products. This platform is the basis for the commercial plant we are currently building and will enable large-scale production pending regulatory approval.”

In September 2023, the company announced construction of a new 187,000-square-foot facility in Glenview, Illinois.

Upside’s textured chicken product is not yet available at retail locations, but can be purchased on a limited basis at Bar Crenn, a San Francisco restaurant.

An Upside spokesperson said the company expects its textured cultivated chicken product will continue to be available on a limited basis as the company works to develop “a next-generation process for producing this product on a larger scale.”

At the same time, Upside is working on scaling its suspension process for ground-textured products like chicken sausages, chicken sandwiches and dumplings, which will be available pending regulatory approval, the spokesperson explained.

The MIT Technology Review article went further to cite the issue of high finished product costs in support of its claims against lab-grown meat.

“... There’s doubt whether lab meat will ever compete with the real thing,” the article contended. “Chicken goes for $4.99 a pound at the supermarket. Upside still isn’t saying how much the lab version costs to make, but a few bites of it sell for $45 at a Michelin-starred restaurant in San Francisco.”

The Upside spokesperson said the company is “laser-focused” on continuing to move down the cost curve of its lab-cultivated products. Driving down costs, however, is part of a “broad journey” of technical scale-up and building out the “supply chain ecosystem.”

“For instance, further reducing the cost of cell feed and finding efficiencies in bioprocess scale up will play key roles in achieving our scale-up goals,” the spokesperson explained. “We’ve already made tremendous progress on both of these fronts and continue to invest in developing and testing new production processes to help achieve these goals.”

About the Author(s)

Rachel French

Contributing writer

Rachel French joined Informa’s Health & Nutrition Network in 2013. Her career in the natural products industry started with a food and beverage focus before transitioning into her role as managing editor of Natural Products Insider, where she covered the dietary supplement industry. French left Informa Markets in 2019, but continues to freelance for both FBI and NPI.

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