What’s the deal with lab-grown meat? Expert answers our FAQ

Two cultured meat companies – Eat Just and Upside Foods – recent full approvals The U.S. Department of Agriculture sells lab-grown chicken products in the U.S. The federal green light comes months after both companies received confirmation from the Food and Drug Administration that their cell cultured meat was safe for human consumption.

Both companies are starting small, so it will be a while before you can buy their products in the grocery store. Upside Foods plans to sell the farmed chicken to San Francisco restaurant Bar Crenn, while Eat Just’s brand Good Meats is partnering with a Washington, DC restaurant owned by celebrity chef and restaurateur Jose Andrés.

A patty of cooked, sliced ​​cultured chicken tossed with red cabbage, sour cream.

Farmed chicken from Upside Foods. (PR Newswire/AP Photo)

So is lab-grown meat the way of the future?

To better understand how cultured meat could affect the meat industry, Yahoo News spoke with Bill Winders, a sociology professor specializing in food and agriculture at Georgia Tech and the paper’s associate editor. “Global Meat: Social and Environmental Impacts of the Expanding Meat Industry.” Answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Yahoo News: How will this change the way we eat meat – and food in general?

Bill Winders: I don’t think it’s going to change the way we eat meat or food in general that much, in part because it’s a really small contribution to meat production in the US to begin with. In 2021, we produced around 21 million tons of chicken. That’s about 46 billion pounds of chicken in one year. So Upside Foods, what they produce in the next year or five years – or even the next decade – is not going to be that significant to the meat industry as a whole.

What about in the long run? Is this the beginning of the end of factory farming as we know it?

From 2014 until today, the consumption and marketing of plant-based meat alternatives such as Impossible and Beyond Meat has increased significantly. But it hasn’t changed meat production methods. In fact, big meat companies like Tyson and others actually got into plant-based meat. Part of this is because they saw plant-based meat as a niche market that was profitable, so they got into that market and made sure it didn’t disrupt the profits of traditional factories. of farming.

So I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same thing happen with farmed meat – that when it becomes profitable and finds a niche, the big meat companies get in on it too. And in some ways, it can help protect against those alternatives: like cultured and plant-based meats, which affect where the big meat companies really make their profits—which is conventional or factory farm industrial meat production.

A technician dressed in a white coat, blue nitrile gloves and a blue hair net pushes the cart past the sparkling pools.

Cultivation tanks at the Upside Foods plant where lab-grown meat is grown in Emeryville, California, on January 11 (Peter DaSilva/Reuters/File Photo)

So could cell cultured meat compete with plant-based meat alternatives like Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat?

Plant-based meats have been proliferating faster than I believe lab-grown meat is proliferating. Plant-based meat uses pea protein or soy, and a lot of soybeans and other field crops can be used for these purposes, so they were much easier to scale up production relatively quickly. But lab-grown meat has the added complication that the process of making lab-grown meat is very expensive. And it’s a very capital and technology intensive process in a way that plant alternatives are not.

Does laboratory-grown meat taste different from traditional meat? Is it more or less nutritious?

I’ve never tried lab-grown meat, but my understanding is that it tastes relatively the same. I’ve read that sometimes the color is maybe a little lighter, a little different than conventionally produced meat. But otherwise, nutritionally and in terms of taste, I think it’s almost unnoticeable.

Are there regulations to ban laboratory-grown chicken? Or could I be served cell cultured chicken in a restaurant and I don’t even know it?

The USDA’s recent decision was to label chicken grown in a lab as “cell cultured.” So when it gets to the stores, when consumers go to the meat section of the grocery store and they look at different meats, if they see one that says “cell cultured,” it’s lab grown.

But I don’t know how this decision will affect the restaurants that serve it. I’m assuming that since it’s hitting restaurants first and there are chefs who are partnering with different companies like Upside Foods to sell lab-grown chicken in their restaurants, they’re going to promote it because they want people to know that they can eat this lab-grown meat.

A diner cuts off a piece of pan-fried cultured chicken breast with cherry tomatoes and herbs.

Upside Foods factory-created farmed chicken breast. (Peter DaSilva/Reuters/File Photo)

For people who don’t eat meat for ethical reasons, could grow…

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