A San Francisco-based company is producing lab-grown chicken and duck, a first for the food industry. Biotech company Memphis Meats says that its “clean poultry” will revolutionize the meat industry by growing edible meat products from animal cells cultured in a lab, which would avoid the environmental and ethical issues attached to raising animals for consumption.
Calling it an “historic moment for the clean meat movement,” Uma Valeti, CEO and co-founder of Memphis Meats, says that with poultry being such a staple of North American diets, being able to produce poultry meet without contributing to the “huge problems” connected to conventional poultry farming is environmental degradation and the animal welfare considerations is a big step forward.
Last week, the company invited a group of taste-testers to try out their lab-grown chicken strips, with reports that, predictably, the product tasted like chicken.
“We aim to produce meat in a better way, so that it is delicious, affordable and sustainable,” says Valeti in a statement. “We really believe this is a significant technological leap for humanity, and an incredible business opportunity – to transform a giant global industry while contributing to solving some of the most urgent sustainability issues of our time,” she says.
The first lab-grown beef were produced in 2013, when researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands created beef patties out of cow muscle stem cells cultured with nutrients in a growth-promoting chemical environment. The group debuted their creations at a taste test in London, but coming with a 300,000 price tag per burger, the group has been since at work trying to produce their product for a more competitive price.
Last year, Memphis Meats announced that it had produced lab-grown meatballs, cultivated from cow muscle tissue. The company says that its products will be on offer to the public by 2021.
Chicken is now the most consumed meat in both Canada and the United States, having overtaken beef for the top spot during the past decade. While overall meat consumption has declined over the past 25 years as consumers opt for healthier choices, chicken is seen as a leaner, healthier choice over beef and pork.
Statistics Canada reports that in 1980, Canadians ate an average of 16.88 kilograms of chicken per person compared to 38.81 kg of beef and 32.16 of pork. By 2015, chicken consumption had shot up to 31.86 kg per person while beef and pork were down to 24.40 and 22.63 respectively. Chicken products generated sales of $2.4 billion in 2015, accounting for four per cent of cash receipts for Canadian farming operations.
About 30 per cent of Earth’s ice-free land is used to raise livestock for human consumption. The health and environmental impacts are many. Along with health concerns associated with high consumptions of animal fats and red meat, the livestock industry contributes to water and air pollution, water depletion, losses in biodiversity and global warming. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that 18 per cent of human-caused greenhouse gases come from the raising and production of meat.