“You’ve got to taste it to believe it,” says Uma Valeti. He’s slicing into a pan-fried cutlet. “Our chicken is chicken,” he says. His statement sounds odd. What’s up with this meat?
Valeti is founder of Memphis Meats, a fancy lab that makes meat from animal cells. For real. But these are no ordinary poultry pieces. No chicken died to make this meal. Instead, scientists produce the meat in a laboratory. They extract cells from a chicken and feed those cells in a nutrient broth until the culture grows into actual raw meat.
It’s (almost) not as yucky-creepy as it sounds. Memphis Meats, based in Emeryville, California, is one of a growing number of startups worldwide that make cell-based or cultured meat. They want to offer it as a substitute for traditional meat. The company has also produced cell-grown beef and duck.
Finless Foods is making cultured fish and seafood, including cell-based versions of salmon, carp, and sea bass. The company is also working on bluefin tuna. It seems space-age, but at the cellular level, this is real meat.
Of course, producers of cell-based meat must overcome challenges such as proving its safety and convincing consumers to bite (literally). Expense is a problem too. The cost of producing a single plate of chicken from cells is about $100. Even that is down from tens of thousands originally.
As global demand for meat grows, supporters say cell-based meat is more sustainable than traditional meat. They claim that’s because it doesn’t require the land, water, and crops needed to raise clucking, mooing livestock.
Many consumers would love to eat meat that doesn’t require killing animals, says Brian Spears, founder of New Age Meats. “People want meat. They don’t want slaughter,” he states.
God gave humans permission to eat the animals He created. (Genesis 9:3) Still, some Christians cringe at harming God’s creatures. Many find doing so for reasons other than food offensive. Cultured meat may provide an appealing substitute for individuals with those views.
Cell-based meat is getting closer to market. U.S. agriculture and food agencies have agreed to oversee the production and labeling of cell-based meat.
But this meat is far from mainstream. The industry faces pushback from livestock producers. Most want states to allow the “meat” label only on food products derived from dead animals.
Memphis Meats hopes to sell its lab-made meat within the next two years. “Instead of saying, ‘Give up eating meat or eat a meat alternative,’” Valeti says, “we’re saying, ‘Continue eating the meat that you love.’”