New book in the US looks into the race for lab-grown meat

 KFC last week announced it is partnering with a Russian company, 3D Bioprinting Solutions, to develop “bioprinting technology using chicken cells and plant material, allowing it to reproduce the taste and texture of chicken meat almost without involving animals in the process.”

This news was reported by Civil Eats, in the USA, in an article dealing with a book by journalist Chase Purdy which explores the companies at the forefront of cell-based meats and their marketing.

The article by Nadra Nittle described Chase Purdy as the rare person who can say he has tried chicken, foie gras, and a meatball—among other foods—all grown in a lab. Originating from animal cells in petri dishes, not from slaughter, this meat is colloquially known as “motherless,” cell-cultured, or cell-based.

Since 2013, Nittle notes, cellular agriculture has been involved in the launch of at least 10 food tech startups and more than $100 million in investments from billionaires and venture capitalists.

In his new book, Billion Dollar Burger: Inside Big Tech’s Race for the Future of Food, Mr Purdy writes about cell-based meat’s origins, taste, and benefits, while documenting how one startup—San Francisco-based JUST—has vowed to make lab-grown meat the next food fad.

Nittle writes:

According to Purdy, getting cell-based meat into restaurants and supermarkets is a tricky undertaking. For one, scientists have to get the taste and texture just right (it’s apparently much leaner than meat from animals). And though the consistency of ground meat is relatively easy for technologists to replicate, other cuts, such as steaks and filets, require complex methods to get muscle cells to grow as they would in animals.

Cost is also a factor, but not as much as it once was. In 2013, cell-cultured meat was priced at $1.2 million per pound. “Now it’s hovering around $50 per pound, a precipitous drop as the technologists behind it have pushed the science to new heights,” writes Purdy. But that’s still too expensive to make it the next Impossible Burger, the plant-based protein available for $12 per pound at grocery stores around the country.

 As technological advances bring production costs down, however, cell-based meat has been touted as an innovation that could annually save the lives of millions of animals and reverse the effects of climate change, since factory farms are significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions. (Writing for Quartz, however, Purdy reported that it’s unclear how much good cell-cultured meat will actually do for the environment.)

 But not everyone is a champion of lab-grown meat, Nittle acknowledges – particularly its competitors in the conventional meat industry.

American food-tech companies also face regulatory hurdles about oversight. Last year, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it will oversee the cells harvested for cultured foods and that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) will supervise development into the meat as well as the product labeling. Once that happens, the fact remains that many consumers will have no clue what cell-cultured meat is—and others might flat-out refuse to try it.

Nittle’s article in Civil Eats – which records Purdy’s responses to questions about lab grown meat’s perceived “ick” factor, its potential impact, and the startups angling to be the first to make it accessible to the public – can be read here.

Source:  Civil Eats


Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog

Leave a Reply