In March 2017, about 25 people were invited to San Francisco, California, for a tasting event. On the menu? Fried chicken. “This is some of the best fried chicken I’ve had,” one guest said.
That compliment was extra special considering the meat’s source. It had been grown in a lab by scientists from Memphis Meats. The company makes meat by extracting cells from animals. It feeds the cells nutrients. The cells grow and multiply, forming muscle, which is meat.
Memphis Meats is one of several companies in the United States making cellular, or lab-grown, meat. Many people think it’s better for the planet than raising animals for food. Others aren’t sure.
Why Cellular Meat?
The world’s population may be nearly 10 billion by 2050. That’s according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Eric Schulze is a vice president at Memphis Meats. He thinks feeding that many people will be tough. “With current meat production methods, there aren’t enough resources” such as land to do so, Schulze told TIME for Kids.
Meat production also requires cows. Cows release methane . This gas contributes to climate change. Cows use a lot of space, too. Most of the world’s farmland is used to grow crops to feed livestock or for grazing . This leads to deforestation.
Cellular meat needs fewer cows and less land. Schulze says cells taken in one extraction can make more meat than “any single animal could ever produce.” How much land is needed? “You only need the land required for the facility” where the meat is made, says Elliot Swartz of the Good Food Institute. This group promotes cellular meat and plant-based “meat” (see “Plant Power”).
Not everyone thinks cellular meat will help the planet. Alison Van Eenennaam studies animal science at the University of California, Davis. She says fossil fuels , such as coal, power cellular-meat facilities. Burning these fuels releases another gas that affects the planet: carbon dioxide. “If we’re burning coal so that we can grow cellular meat,” she asks, “are we going backward?”
Cellular meat isn’t in stores. Before that can happen, it needs to be affordable. The first lab-grown burger was produced in 2013. It cost more than $300,000 to make. Costs are dropping. But they can’t yet compete with regular ground beef. That’s about $4 a pound.
The U.S. government must also pass regulations to ensure that cellular meat is safely produced. But it’s unclear how long that will take.
Some people choose not to eat meat, or to eat less of it. For them, plant-based “meat” could be a tasty substitute. To make it, scientists study why meat looks and tastes the way it does. Then they use plants to copy these qualities.
Companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat sell their plant-based products in grocery stores. You can also find plant-based options everywhere from fancy restaurants to fast-food chains such as Burger King, Carl’s Jr., and Dunkin’.