Flash Point: The Downside to Upside – It’s Nowhere Near Being Vegan

UPDATE: Sept 15th, 2023: I’ve got an interesting update to this blog post: WIRED did some investigation into Upside’s claims, and they’re quite disturbing, and nowhere near what Upside likes to claim publicly. Even more animal product usage, like porcine (pig) gelatin and bovine serum, appear to be in regular use, especially the items they’ve been serving to woo investors. Plus, the ‘bioreactors’ that they highlight aren’t even in use, and the process they use to make their ‘cuts’ is incredibly labour intensive and impossible to scale. Just another big, lying company. The original piece continues below.

This week there’s been quite the hype about Upside Foods (rebranded from Memphis Meats in 2021) and their lab-grown chicken flesh.

It’s being celebrated by the common offenders in the vegan world, but they’re omitting some key details. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Is It Vegan?

Let’s tackle the most obvious question: is it vegan? The answer is a resounding ‘no’.

It’s made of cells taken from chickens, either their flesh, or their eggs. And it’s not like they took them ‘once’, but are apparently harvesting them regularly. From their FAQ:

“We’re exploring obtaining cells from a variety of methods, including biopsies from living animals, eggs, fishing, and recently slaughtered animals who were already a part of the food system. Our first commercial products will be produced using cells from fertilized chicken eggs.”

This is clearly not vegan.

Also, if you dig into their much-hyped FDA submission response, they also declare bovine serum as a medium they use.

Animal-derived materials include the biopsy samples used for isolation of primary cells, bovine serum, and animal sources of trypsin used during cell culturing.

From Section

In addition to these common macro- and micronutrients used to support cell growth, several media protein components (e.g., bovine serum albumin, growth factors) are required for sustaining cell viability and growth during the culture process.

From Section 4.4.1

On the basis that serum is derived from animal blood and used in culture media at physiologically relevant concentrations optimum for cell survival and growth[…].

From the Request for Additional Information section

Very clearly these aren’t vegan. If you’re curious about bovine serum, here’s the Wikipedia page, and a commercial source (that’s surprisingly informative. And yes, it’s made from cow blood plasma.)

Let’s Be Clever!

So what are ‘vegan’ sources saying about this? VegNews and PETA both posted releases on this, and have very cleverly used terms like “slaughter-less meat” (in addition to total omission of the vegan status of this.)

But is it free of slaughter? This simply isn’t the case. There are no eggs without slaughter. There is no bovine serum without slaughter. So there is no Upside Foods chicken without slaughter.

It’s extremely disappointing that these entities must make false statements. This lab-grown chicken flesh will not be vegan, and will continue to contribute to animal cruelty and exploitation. But these sources seemingly welcome this future.

Piling On The Confusion

To further confuse things, VegNews and Vegconomist (among other sources) falsely state that this has FDA GRAS certification.

It does not. (Do these publications even have fact-checkers?)

To my dismay, these publications actually link to the FDA documents that have zero reference to GRAS certification. Here’s is the main article that is linked, the general FDA statement on Upside Foods. Above we already linked to their FDA submission response.

Again, these two media articles literally link to these documents which do not state anywhere that GRAS certification has been given. Just how stupid do they think their readers are?

Further, you can search the GRAS database yourself, here’s a list of the latest approvals, and clearly Upside Foods isn’t on is.

It’s appalling that these ‘trusted’ sources can get the information so wrong, and intentionally mislead vegans with false hope. GRAS certification will be a further step, and in all likelihood will also require animal testing.

In short, it’s a non-vegan company making a non-vegan product. How is this in any way ‘vegan news’? I don’t understand the excitement for this when there’s a wide range of legitimate vegan innovations and companies that deserve to be highlighted and celebrated.

For decades we vegans have been making a case for a diet without animal products, and outlining the many health concerns resulting from the consumption of animal products. These endorsements undermine all this work. These endorsements only further encourage a mindset that ‘humans need meat’. Humans don’t need to eat corpses or other animal products, and frankly those claiming to represent veganism should do better to maintain this messaging.

Dave Shishkoff, Editor

Thanks for sharing!

Dave Shishkoff

Just check out the About page. =)

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1 Response

  1. Harold Brown says:

    Whether it is cultural pressure or a fetish for flesh these utilitarian camps will push to draw readership, subscriptions, and pocketbook activism. You put it so well that lab meat has consequences and the argument that it will save lives doesn’t wash. It may save a couple of lives but it speaks to the utilitarian dogma, not all lives are equal. They cannot say that lab meat will move the moral ball forward because, in the end, the consumer will be no more than they are, consumers.

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