The First Lab-Grown Chicken Meat is Here

The First Lab-Grown Chicken is Here
istock/SasinParaksa

Memphis Meats, Inc., a Bay Area startup says it has developed the world’s first chicken and duck meats from self-producing cells, better known as “lab-grown” meat. The breakthrough could help to bridge the gap for people seeking out animal-based proteins while avoiding the pitfalls of the livestock industry.

“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,” Uma Valeti, M.D., co-founder and CEO of Memphis Meats, said in a statement. “Chicken and duck are at the center of the table in so many cultures around the world, but the way conventional poultry is raised creates huge problems for the environment, animal welfare, and human health. It is also inefficient. We aim to produce meat in a better way, so that it is delicious, affordable and sustainable”

Chicken is the most popular protein in the U.S. Americans eat approximately 90 pounds of it every year, making it nearly a $100 billion a year industry. Duck has a similar impact in China.

Memphis Meats uses animal cells to recreate the edible protein, what it calls “clean meat,” a riff on “clean technology,” without the need for the whole animal. This breakthrough could redefine the meat industry by removing animals from the equation entirely.

Currently, the livestock industry is most heavily reliant on factory farms. Not only are these giant operations devastating the environment and using up significant natural resources including land, water, and grain, but they’ve also become breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Antibiotics are routinely added to livestock feed to help prevent the spread of infections. But they’re more commonly added to help boost the size of animals in a shorter time period allowing producers to boost profits. More than 80 percent of the U.S. inventory of medically important antibiotics are purchased by meat, egg, and dairy producers every year. The World Health Organization continues to warn global leaders of the impact these antibiotic-resistant superbugs could have on human health.

Lab-created “clean meat” also solves another major issue: animal welfare. Factory farms and slaughterhouses are routinely under investigation for egregious animal abuse allegations, but with more than 10 billion animals in factory farms around the world every year, it’s impossible to catch or prevent even a significant fraction of the abuses. Slaughterhouse and farm workers also face an increased risk of work-related injuries and even deaths in the dangerous and fast pace of production lines.

The meat industry appears to be receptive to the technology as well.

“Tyson Foods Inc., the largest U.S. meat company by sales, launched a venture-capital fund in December that it says could invest in meat grown cell-by-cell,” reports the Wall Street Journal. “Kevin Myers, head of product development for Hormel Foods Corp., last fall called the startups’ research into the cultured-meat technology ‘a good long-term proposition.’”

Currently, the technology is cost-prohibitive to make it a regular feature on most dinner tables–about $9,000 for a pound of chicken (yes, that’s nine-thousand dollars). But the goal is to be priced the same as meat or poultry sold in supermarkets—well under the $5 per pound mark. Lab-grown burgers made headlines in 2013 with a price tag of $325,000 for the two-year process of making a single burger. But Memphis Meats says it could be selling its products a lot closer to $3.25 per pound in stores by 2021.

“We really believe this is a significant technological leap for humanity,” says Valeti, “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.”

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.