Which Came First, the Lab or the Lab-Grown Egg White?

Which Came First, the Lab or the Lab-Grown Egg White?

The ethical decision about whether or not to eat eggs may soon be a thing of the past. You can thank biotech startup Clara Foods, which says it has secured $1.7 million in seed funding to develop egg whites in a lab—no chickens required.

The project, conceived by Arturo Elizondo, David Anchel and Isha Datar, aims to recreate a liquid egg white alternative derived from genetically modified yeast.

“If Clara Foods can get this idea to scale, it could significantly reduce the cost and time spent raising chickens, procuring eggs and then separating the egg whites,” explains TechCrunch. “That would be attractive to companies that use egg whites in their products such as pasta and condiment brands.”

While egg farmers may not be too thrilled at the concept, it could be great news for egg-laying chickens who are often housed in battery cages that are cramped, uncomfortable and can lead to unnatural chicken behavior, such as cannibalism.

A number of major food companies have recently pledged to move toward sourcing cage-free eggs, and if successful, the lab-grown egg white could become a more ethical option to major multinational food brands than even a cage-free egg.

Funding came from a roster of investors, including Gary Hirshberg, the founder of Stonyfield yogurt. Yes, that’s right—Gary Hirshberg who started an organic yogurt company and also spearheads the Just Label It genetically modified foods labeling campaign, is supporting a biotech project.

But lab-grown yeast that’s been genetically modified doesn’t compare to agricultural GMOs that are seen as problematic—primarily because of their dependence on large amounts of pesticides and herbicides, which have significant negative consequences for both the environment and human health.

The lab-grown egg white is not the first animal product to be recreated in a lab setting. Scientists developed lab-grown meat that was recently cooked into a hamburger and served to critical acclaim, and others have created a nondairy cow milk in a lab setting.

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Egg in lab image via Shutterstock 

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.