Lab-grown meat from animals tested without killing – is this the future of ethical food? | Food

It was a moment of confrontation for a vegetarian. First, pork meatballs and then slices of pork balanced on a sort of mini BLT were presented to be eaten by the waiting hosts. The meat even came from a named pig, a friendly-looking pig named Dawn.

With a little excitement, I sliced ​​the meatball and ate it. Then I took a bite of the pig. It was the first time I’d tasted meat in 11 years, made possible by the fact that Dawn, who was gambling on a field in upstate New York, wouldn’t die for it.

Instead, a bunch of his cells were grown in a lab and flown in the United States to create a product known as “cultured meat,” better advertised for climatic conditions as well as the deadly concerns of pigs and cows. .

Eitan Fisher, founder of cultured meat producer Mission Barns, who invited the Guardian to a taste test, said: “One harmless sample of a pig can produce millions of tonnes of product without requiring us to raise and slaughter one animal at a time.” at an upscale Manhattan hotel. The meatballs were juicy, the bacon was crispy, and even for a vegetarian, both had an undeniable meaty quality.

“We got this sample from Dawn and she’s living free and happy,” said Fisher, whose company has identified “donor” cows, chickens and ducks for future cultured meat varieties. “As people move toward consuming these types of products, this industry will completely transform our food system.”

Mission Barns is one of about 80 startups based in San Francisco’s Bay Area, one of which, Upside Foods, became the first in the country. gave his approval It is a major step by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in November to allow the sale of farmed meat in the United States. Monday, Upside he said aims to start selling the chicken he grows in restaurants this year, and in grocery stores by 2028.

A restaurant shoots a video of a lab-grown chicken nugget dish during a media launch in Singapore.
A restaurant shoots a video of a lab-grown chicken nugget dish during a media launch in Singapore. Photo: Nicholas Yeo/AFP/Getty Images

It was more than 2 billion dollars invested Since 2020, many new businesses in the sector do not wait for regulatory approval before building facilities. In December, a company called Believer Meats broke the ground The $123 million facility in North Carolina, which it claims will be the world’s largest cultured meat plant, will produce 10,000 tons of product once operational.

So far, cultured meat — the new industry that’s settled on lab-grown or cellular meat as it goes by that name — has only begun to be sold in Singapore, where another Bay Area contender, Eat Just, was given the green light to sell chicken breasts and tenders in 2020. But as the FDA puts it, “the world is experiencing a food revolution,” with the rise of cultured meat promising to reduce the meat industry’s devastating planet-warming emissions and reduce its voracious appetite for land, as well as sustain livestock. the barbarism of factory farming.

Elliot Swartz, lead scientist on cultured meat at the Good Food Institute (GFI), said: “We know that we can’t really meet the targets in the Paris climate agreement without addressing meat consumption, and we think alternative proteins are the best way to address that.” ) that takes a sort of “all of the above” approach, ditching cultured meat, plant-based offerings like Impossible Burgers, and just pork chops and steaks increasingand potentially catastrophic, global appetite for meat.

Raising and slaughtering livestock is responsible more than half of the greenhouse gas pollution of the entire food sectorthis in itself is estimated to contribute about a third total global emissions. met with the need to reach “top meat”.Cultured meat has been touted as a solution because it can reduce emissions by around 17% for chicken, the heaviest meat on the planet, and up to 92% for beef. A GFI study found.

Large areas, most of them without forest for grazing and susceptible to the spread of zoonoses diseases, meanwhile, can be released if lured into the 30,000 sq. ft. facility that operates Mission Barns instead of meat. Eating something that isn’t laced with large amounts of antibiotics is also in the public interest, the company’s research found.

“The production process is more efficient, you have significantly less feed material to get the same amount of calories, and you have a huge opportunity to restore ecosystems and slow the loss of biodiversity,” Swartz said. “It allows us to soften all these tough, sticky global challenges.”

A report Last week it identified the rise of plant-based meat alternatives as one of three “super tipping points” that could trigger a cascade of decarbonisation in the global economy, alongside electric vehicles and the rise of green fertilisers. According to the report, by 2035, 400-800 million hectares of 20% of the market share will no longer be needed for livestock and their feed, compared to 7-15% of the world’s agricultural land today.

Pig in the morning.
Pig in the morning. Photo: Courtesy of Mission Barns

This challenge especially in the US, it is strong in the world the largest producer beef and chicken and the second-largest producer of pork, a country where meat-eating is deeply entrenched due to ingrained habit or the lack of available, affordable alternatives, each American eats an average of more than 260 lb of meat each year. a visible figure to step aside.

i am excited still short, Impossible and the Beyond Meat craze highlighted America’s desire for real meat over plant-based imitations. “In consumer research, a lot of people say, ‘I’m not going to eat that plant product, I don’t care how good it tastes,'” Swartz said.

Mission Barns, which hopes to receive FDA approval soon and has a line of bacon, meatballs and sausage ready for distribution, aims to “appeal to people who like to eat bacon and who like to eat meatballs,” according to Fisher. who himself has been a vegetarian for over a decade. “Whether consciously or subconsciously, we want and desire the taste of animal flesh. Plant-based alternatives come close to mimicking them.

“But for people who want that real flavor, I think giving them real pork is definitely the way to go. If we want something that tastes like pork, it’s not enough to have a piece of tempeh and call it pork.”

Since launching in 2018, Mission Barns has launched a PR offensive while developing its product, gathering data for regulators and raising money (investors put $24 million into a “pilot plant”). in 2021). The TV show’s sprawling kitchen attracted lawmakers and potential customers to watch at home (prominent congressional Democrat Steny Hoyer was apparently a big fan of the pork), and several outlets agreed to stock the product once it was ready. approved for sale.

Many of the emerging cultured meat businesses are companies that aim to sell lab-grown products. sushi-grade salmongold bluefin tuna or even fois gras – and Barnes’ mission is one of efficiency by increasing animal fat rather than the more laborious and expensive muscle and tissue. The fat, topped with proteins and spices, is created by growing cells in robust bioreactors that replicate the animal’s growth.

The use of these cultivators, mostly used by the biopharmaceutical industry for drug production, poses a challenge for cultured meat as they typically produce small batches at high cost, while the food industry demands a change in this equation. Creating the first lab-grown burger value At $330,000 in 2013 and improving, the price tag is still a barrier to rapidly expanding production to compete with the traditional meat industry in the short term. Eat Just has a chicken in 2019 that is said to cost $50 to preparethough its prices are now down.

The process can also be energy intensive, as meat farming requires repeated heating and cooling of the animal, which requires running on a renewable energy grid to avoid adding to emissions. But beyond the practical hurdles, the beginnings of cultured meat raise broader questions. Will the public see any reason to switch to this newfangled meat? And will it change the concept of what it means to eat ethically?

People sit in the tasting room.
Mission Barns Tasting Room. Photo: Courtesy of Mission Barns

The intended audience for cultured meat may be those who eat meat at least once a day, allowing them to bypass a more environmentally friendly option without giving up meat altogether, but the fact that meat comes from a lab raises philosophical questions for vegetarians.

If you don’t eat meat for animal welfare or climate reasons, what happens when these issues are removed from food? How much is being a vegetarian about such values, other than eating meat? I thought about this when I was experiencing a kind of stuffy, greasy feeling in a mouth unused to eating meat. Others are less controversial.

“I absolutely plan to eat these products when they become more available in the U.S.,” said Swartz, who has been vegetarian for the past four years. “People don’t give up meat because it tastes bad, that’s another motivation. I think we’re going to need a new word like cultivator.”

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