The chicken finally crosses the road!
A San Francisco based startup Memphis Meats has claimed that it has made the world’s first lab-grown chicken strips from animal cells. They even invited a handful of taste-testers to their kitchen to try it.
At a tasting, which took place on March 14, Memphis Meats served lab-grown chicken strips that were battered and fried, as well as lab-grown duck a l’orange. Early tasters of the product swear it tastes just like chicken, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
“It is thrilling to introduce the first chicken and duck that didn’t require raising animals. This is a historic moment for the clean meat movement,” Memphis Meats’ cofounder and CEO, Uma Valeti, said in a press release.
About a year back, in February 2016, the company said it had produced lab-grown meatballs, made by cultivating cow muscle tissue in a sterile environment. In addition to chicken, Memphis Meat announced on March 15 that it has cultivated lab-grown duck as well.
Memphis Meats is one of many startups aiming to cut down on our reliance on traditional meat. Dr. Mark Post, a researcher in Maastricht, Netherlands, made a lab-grown burger in 2013 and subsequently launched a company called Mosa Meats to further his work. Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat sell plant-based beef and chicken that taste eerily similar to the real thing.
So how is this chicken made?
Speaking to Eater, Memphis Meats’ in-house senior scientist Eric Schulze explained, “We start by harvesting cells from high-quality, living chickens that might otherwise go into conventional meat,” he says. “The chickens are not killed in the process. We look for cells that have potential to renew, put them in environment where they can grow and feed them water and nutrients — vitamins, minerals, proteins, sugars — and let them grow.”
It takes between four and six weeks for harvested cells to grow into a fleshed-out chicken tender. That’s comparable to the amount of time a chick takes to reach adulthood in today’s modern poultry industry. However, lab-grown meat still requires fetal serum, which comes from unborn calves and chicks, to start the cultivation process. Memphis Meats does have plans to replace this serum with something plant-based though.
They’re all hoping to gain a foothold in America’s $200 billion meat industry (and $48 billion poultry industry), by offering foods that mimic meat but are more environmentally friendly. Meat production is harsh on the planet. According to estimates, traditional livestock farming accounts for about 18% of greenhouse emissions, uses 47,000 square miles of land annually, and exhausts 70% of the world’s water.
Chicken is by far the most popular protein in the U.S. with each American eating an average of 90 pounds per person per year. Given the costs (feed, breeding, and slaughter), environmental effects, ethical concerns, and nutritional impact (chiefly, antibiotic use) of poultry production, lab-grown meat certainly sounds like a novel solution.
Assuming consumers will be willing to pay a bit of a premium for environmentally-friendly, Silicon Valley-approved chicken, there are other concerns, including the psychological hump American diners might need to overcome before they’re comfortable eating lab-grown meat.
“We’ve found that our testers become big advocates pretty quickly,” Myrick says. “We feel that for most consumers, once they learn about conventional meat processing, it will become a relatively understandable and compelling offering for them.”
However, there are other concerns and challenges. Diners need to overcome the psychological barrier before getting comfortable with eating lab-grown meat. Moreover, there could also be potential issues raised by USDA or FDA regarding approval or regulation of such a product. However, Schulze did sound optimistic, “the country’s current regulatory system is more than adequate for products such as [Memphis Meats] and that they would welcome any regulatory pathway that helps foster approval to sending this to market.”