It looks and tastes like regular fried chicken, but its production never ruffled a feather.
Meat is a staple food for most people, and as they grow wealthier, they tend to eat more of it. Individuals may benefit from the densely packed nutrients in meat, but the planet not so much. Animals occupy a lot of space if kept free-range and suffer from rampant disease and cruelty if kept in close quarters. They produce huge amounts of manure, responsible for an estimated 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, which also contaminates water sources. The entire system is inefficient, with a third of grain crops fed to animals to produce a limited quantity of meat, when that grain or land could be used to feed many more people.
Some eaters, though, do not want to make the transition to veganism or vegetarianism, despite their concerns about the ethics and environmental impact of meat production. Enter the ‘clean meat’ start-ups, innovative and ground-breaking companies that are trying to produce lab-grown meat that does not harm animals – or have anything to do with animals, for that matter, other than replicating taste and texture.
One such company, Memphis Meats, just announced today that it has successfully grown the first poultry for human consumption. Its chicken and duck strips were served at an event on March 14 in San Francisco to great approval from testers, all of whom said they’d eat it again. The chicken strip was breaded and deep-fried, and testers described it as spongier than a whole chicken breast.
Memphis Meats is developing methods to produce meat directly from animal cells, without needing to feed, breed, or slaughter animals. While the cost is still prohibitive – a pound of chicken costs US $9,000 to produce currently – it has dropped to half of what it cost the company to make a cultured meatball a year ago. Eventually Memphis Meats hopes to sell its cultured meat at a comparable price to supermarket chicken (in the $3-4/lb range) by 2021.
In a press release, Memphis Meats co-founder and CEO Uma Valeti describes the importance of poultry and why its lab-grown counterparts can change the world:
“We aim to produce meat in a better way, so that it is delicious, affordable, and sustainable. We believe this is a significant technological leap for humanity, and an incredible business opportunity – to transform a global industry while contributing to solving some of the most urgent sustainability issues of our time.”
Chicken represents an annual market of $90 billion in the United States, working out to 90.9 pounds per person, nearly as much as beef and pork combined. Six billion pounds of duck are consumed in China each year, roughly 4.5 lbs per person. It will take a while for Memphis Meats to get there, though, so meat producers and slaughterhouse owners aren’t sweating yet. That being said, meat giant Tyson does seem to think there’s change in the air. The corporation launched a $150-million venture capital fund in December to support research into lab-grown meat.