Could Lab-Grown Meat Be Coming To Menus Sooner Than Expected?

Noshing on a burger or some chicken strips that came from a lab might seem like something from a science fiction movie set in the distant future, but it’s likely closer to becoming a reality than you think. 

Lab-grown meat isn’t an entirely new concept. We’ve written about science-engineered meatballs before, but while meat that’s from a science lab rather than a farm does exist, it’s hardly the mainstream. In fact, Bistro In Vitro located in the Netherlands is one of the few (if not the only restaurant) serving it.

Not only has lab-grown meat not yet been approved by the FDA, but it’s not economically viable for most restaurants to make the switch (for example the first lab-grown hamburger patty cost $300,000 to make). That could be changing very soon though if KFC has its way. 

KFC’s parent company, Yum! Brands, recently announced that they’d like to bring lab-grown chicken nuggets to the worldwide fried chicken chain.

“At KFC, we are closely monitoring all of the latest trends and innovations and doing our best to keep up with the times by introducing advanced technologies to our restaurant networks.”KFC of Russia spokesperson, Raisa Polyakova said. “Our experiment in testing 3D bioprinting technology to create chicken products can also help address several looming global problems.”

KFC is actively working to make lab nuggets happen and has partnered with 3D Bioprinting Solutions, a Moscow-based technology laboratory. 

What’s behind the lab-grown meat movement?

It’s certainly not difficult to find chicken, beef, pork, or fish on restaurant menus or at the grocery store, but it comes at a great cost to our planet. Our ravenous appetite for meat is taking its toll on the land and the air. For example, cattle ranching is the largest cause of destruction to the Amazon Rain Forest, accounting for 80 percent of deforestation. Methane also accounts for a significant portion of greenhouse gases (around 14.5 percent) and most of that comes from livestock

As National Geographic points out, these issues will only be magnified in the future with the growing population of humans on Earth. So could lab-grown meat actually be a viable solution for these agricultural woes? 

KFC points to a study in the American Environmental Science and Technology Journal that notes: “the technology of growing meat from cells has minimal negative impact on the environment, allowing energy consumption to be cut by more than half, greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced 25 fold and 100 times less land to be used than traditional farm-based meat production.”

That certainly sounds optimistic, but it doesn’t even begin to address the economic complexities of making such a move. Obviously, a switch to lab-grown meat would happen gradually, but still, with around 22 million people just in the United States working in agricultural-related fields, that’s a significant obstacle to tackle.

When will we see lab-grown chicken nuggets?

There’s without a doubt a growing demand for alternatives to meat that still capture its texture and flavor. Plant-based meats have seen remarkable consumer demand in recent years and the industry is expected to keep growing, potentially reaching over $4 billion by 2026. 

KFC already has plans to roll out more vegetarian chicken options in 2020, however, they haven’t yet released a timeline for when these lab-grown chicken nuggets will be appearing on menus. Yusef Khesuani co-founder of 3D Bioprinting Solutions, said they’re hoping for “rapid development” and added that the company is confident its partnership with KFC will “help accelerate the launch of cell-based meat products on the market.”

Oddly enough, KFC isn’t the first to create a lab-grown chicken nugget. San Francisco-based company JUST accomplished the feat in 2018, using a single chicken feather — however, they’ve yet to bring them to the mainstream marketplace. 

It’s important to note, that while the development of lab-grown meat is a more humane and hopefully sustainable approach to harvesting meat, it’s not vegan. Cells from an animal must still be used to create lab-grown meat. 

Some things science just has to accept and deal with.

Photos via: Wikipedia Commons, Flickr, Pxhere.

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