Recently in San Francisco, food company Just has developed a method of producing chicken nuggets after using just a few cells from a chicken feather instead of needing the whole animal. Over 2 days the cells are grown in a cellular medium with the use of a protein scaffold to get the desired structure. Opinions so far have found that at least tastes similar to traditionally made chicken nuggets. The process still taking 2 days and the cost involved means not ready for commercial mass production but is picking up from work began by others such as cell agriculture scientist Mark Post known for making a cell grown hamburger in 2013.
The work done by Just, Mark Post and others does raise alot of possibility and benefits that could come from developing and refining this process. Particularly in Western countries there is a high appetite for meat, 70 billion animals slaughtered to meet the demand and with the population increasing and by 2050 the demands for meat couldn’t be met and so cell grown meat could be the solution. Connected to this there is also a food scarcity already so only needing some cells could be a solution to starvation and associated diseases in other countries too.
Another benefit of cell grown as a source of meat is aside from the obvious limit cruelty to animals and not required to be slaughtered is that helps protect the environment by lowering waste & emissions from industrial farming. Given the demand still there would still be significant emissions and energy used however the technique used by Just would significantly lower animal suffering. Support has come from businesses and also investors such as Bill Gates and Richard Branson lend credence to the process of cell grown meat. Understandably there is also the worry that using this process still lends to demand for meat and how it relates to over consumption and obesity in Europe & USA.
Some other benefit of cell grown meat that I actually hadn’t initially considered are disease and also morality. Growing up in 90s UK I remember the impact of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease and how this impacted supply of beef and aware of similar outbreaks with infected cattle in USA and Europe with the threat still there with cases found in France back in 2016. Meat grown in labs from cells could prevent diseases like mad cow to maintain beef supply. Another point is some groups of people such as Muslim only eating Halal and vegetarians due to animal cruelty possibly now could eat meat and still respect their religion and moral view.
The method being utilised by Just has sparked the discussion and some steps have been taken in the US in respect to cell grown vs traditional grown meat. State legislators in Missouri have decided that the cell grown method can’t be labelled meat after being urged by farmers. Understandably for farmers and ranchers this can affect their livelihood but perhaps given the demand and cost involved this may change. Related to this is the perception of lab grown meat as ‘Frankenstein food’ and connected to the stigma of GM food but hopefully with the benefits and awareness this can be overcome.
Overall Just and Mark Post have made strides towards maintaining levels of meat to continue meeting demand as populations increases and more accommodating while being environmentally friendly and much better for livestock too. Technology has always developed to suit culture but this definitely case of necessity being the mother of invention so shall see what the future holds but I hope more people get on board for cell grown meat.