San Francisco-based Memphis Meats have created the first chicken and duck meat in a laboratory, offering a more ethical and sustainable option for consuming poultry that doesn’t involve slaughtering animals.

Dubbed ‘clean meat’, these test-tube samples are biologically identical to ‘real’ meat and are created using animal cells fed with sugar, minerals and oxygen. These cells, which are able to regenerate, are then placed into a bioreactor tank until they grow into skeletal muscle in a couple of weeks.

Clean meat carries obvious benefits to the planet, consumer health and animal welfare and for this reason is expected to become commercially available in 2021. As Uma Valeti, M. D., co-founder and CEO of Memphis Meats explained in a press release, “We really believe this is a significant technological leap for humanity, 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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Duck a l'Orange
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Southern fried chicken

Lab-grown beef has already been created by Memphis Meats (as well as the Netherlands’ Mosa Meat), but this is the first time clean poultry has been made. Growing poultry consumption is expected to lead to a 16% increase in poultry production in the US and a 37% increase in China by 2020. According to the Meat Atlas report by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, 58 trillion chickens were slaughtered globally in 2011. Innovations like Memphis Meat’s can help keep up with modern demands. The only drawback at the moment is the cost – the chicken strips cost approximately $9,000 per pound while the beef has previously been estimated at $18,000. This is expected to decrease in time as production achieves scale and becomes normalized.

Other companies are also tackling the issues surrounding meat consumption in different, innovative ways. As mentioned in our Food + Drink trend report, Impossible Foods have created a plant-based “beef” burger to appeal to meat-eaters; next week, the company will open its first processing facility in Oakland. Beyond Meat has created a similar line of plant-based meats, including chicken. Chilean start-up The Not Company has even used this approach to create plant-based animal products such as milk and cheese.

While Memphis Meat may not be vegetarian or vegan (fetal serum from chicks and calves is used), it is a great option for eco and morally conscious meat-eaters and a promising way of sustaining our consumption habits. There is widespread consumer support for these initiatives as well: according to a SONAR™ survey, 74% of US and UK millennials would adopt new dietary habits in order to reduce their impact on the planet.

Food brands should be inspired by these initiatives and put ethics and sustainability at the forefront of what they do. They must recognize that values around food are changing and that there is greater interest in meat-free alternatives and sustainability as a whole.

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