Jun 23, 2023 - News

Iowa agricultural industry on alert following approval of lab-grown meat

Illustration of a question mark formed by two grilled chicken breasts and a cut piece of chicken

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

More research is needed to understand cell-cultivated food products, an Iowa Beef Industry Council spokesperson tells Axios.

  • The warning follows federal approval this week for two California companies to sell lab-grown chicken.

Why it matters: Laboratory meats could have an economic impact on Iowa, one of the biggest livestock-producing states in the nation.

  • The state's meat industry accounts for 186,000 jobs and billions of dollars in economic impact, according to a 2019 report commissioned by the Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers.

Driving the news: Upside Foods and Good Meat on Wednesday became the first companies to obtain regulatory approval through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a breakthrough in their multi-year efforts to bring their products to market.

  • The U.S. is the second country, after Singapore, to authorize the production and sale of lab-grown meat, the New York Times reports.
  • Both companies this week said they were already processing orders or starting production for some restaurants. But it will likely be years before the products are sold in grocery stores, per the NY Times.

Threat level: Lab meats aren't currently pressuring Iowa's economy, Lee Schulz, an associate professor of ag and natural resource economics at Iowa State University, tells Axios.

  • But technological advancements and new products should continue to be scrutinized to assure they meet the same standards as traditionally produced foods, he said.

Of note: The USDA is still drafting labeling regulations for lab-grown meat.

The big picture: Conventional animal agriculture is one of the top causes of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

  • Cultivated meat products can lower land, water and nutrient footprints and help address concerns over animal welfare, according to the group's 2 022 report.

How it works: Animal cells are fed nutrients that allow them to multiply in large tanks, commonly referenced as bioreactors.

  • After two or three weeks, the cells are harvested and can be molded into the shape of things like chicken filets or nuggets.

What they're saying: The environmental impacts of lab-grown meats have not been measured in an encompassing way, such as weighing factors like ecosystems that benefit from cattle grazing, Kylie Peterson, a spokesperson for the Iowa Beef Industry Council, tells Axios.

  • Cultivated meats can offer similar nutrients as conventionally produced products but may still have nutritional shortcomings, Peterson said.
  • Plus, it's almost impossible to reproduce the diversity of cuts derived from various animal species and breeds, she said.

The intrigue: An Associated Press reporter tried multiple lab chicken dishes this year and says it tastes like the real thing.

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