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In James Street in London, the restaurants are full of eateries that enjoy all kinds of meat. But I came here to learn more about meat grown or grown in the laboratory, and the role it can play in the fight against global warming. I met the Good Food Institute’s Seren Kell. Why do people make it in the first place?
It basically boils down to two major issues, public health and climate change. 14.8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from animal husbandry. And then from the point of view of public health, because of the way our animal industry has developed in recent decades, and because we have more and more beaks to feed, it is becoming much more intense.
The companies that systematically grow these animals prescribe antibiotics. And feeding all these antibiotics to animals really encourages antimicrobial resistance. And it’s just a crisis in public health.
But what’s wrong with the current farm that they can not fix?
We cannot occupy all our land by the kind of sustainable, organic farming to which people think we should move. There is simply not enough land.
What does it mean to take the farm out of the field and take it to the laboratory? My first lab visit is in Old Street. But at Hoxton Farms, they are not focused on making artificial meat, rather one of its main ingredients. Hi, this is Emiko from The Financial Times.
This is our food lab, where we use robotic equipment to make the juiciest fat cells we can.
Here they think fat, which they create by combining cell biology and mathematical modeling, is magic. So why animal fat?
It defines the way meat looks, cooks and tastes. The hiss and the smell, how it turns brown. In meat alternatives, there are vegetable oils, and they are really unsustainable. Besides caring about the climate and caring about animal ethics, I really care about food. There is a world where we can protect the climate without compromising the recipes we love, or changing the way people eat.
But now I want to see where they actually make meat in a lab. At the start, Higher Steaks, in Cambridge, they make meat by growing samples of animal cells. How do you get an animal cell to grow? What do you feed it?
So we feed it with the media, a liquid full of sugars, amino acids, vitamins and everything you need to make it grow. But also in the cells we use, and then turn it into muscle, fat and all the different tissues you need to recreate meat. Higher Steaks concentrates its efforts on producing pork because it is the most consumed meat in the world.
The company will not disclose the cost of the process, but acknowledges the main challenge is scaling up production. It is a one liter bioreactor, how easy is it to upgrade it?
It’s going to be challenging. We have the whole issues of how to grow cells in a much larger vessel. Not just tens of liters, but thousands, and maybe tens of thousands of liters. With this kind of scale you can place them in centrifuge, and just let cells rotate and move on. But to do it on ten and ten thousand liter scales is not economical. It is very technically challenging.
Last year, Higher Steaks produced the first bacon and pork belly in the world. These pieces they prepared took about three weeks to create. You’re still developing this product, so I can not taste it. But I’m just going to sniff. It smells like pork. It has a slightly sweet flavor, but it definitely looks like pork. And it smells like pork.
So these are some of our prototypes of pork belly. So these prototypes, we take the cells from where you saw, so the muscle and the fat, which we then mix with some plant-based proteins to make the delicious pork belly. And soon you can taste it too.
It’s frustrating that I can not taste it now. But it is legal to sell meat in a laboratory in Singapore. So I made a video call with my FT colleague Mercedes Ruehl and chef Kaimana Chee from the beginning Eat Just.
I’m here today to try some farmed meat dishes with Kaimana. And he’s going to guide us through what we have.
Yes, we have a farmed chicken salad with some mandarin vinaigrette.
Are you going to try it for us and tell us what it tastes like?
That’s good. It is easier to chew than the usual, I would say than ordinary chicken.
A little softer.
O OK. But is it a meaty texture?
Yes. Yes, I would eat it.
So it seems that meat grown by the laboratory can be edible and tasty. Of course, production is still on a small scale, but what impact could it have if it could replace some of our traditional meat supplies? I came to the University of Oxford to meet John Lynch, whose research focuses on the climatic effects of meat and dairy production. So we heard a lot about meat grown by the lab. Does it play a role in solving our environmental climate?
We can simply eat less meat without replacing some of it with something. But the question is: is it realistic to expect the level of dietary change? And of course, our lentils have been around for decades, millennia, and we still ate meat. Is it the farmed meat, is it an easier shift for the average consumer? But I do not think there is a single silver bullet solution if you will.
My last stop is back in James Street in London. At Homeslice, pizzas are the most important dish. But I would like to share a vegan vegetable burger with meat-centric chef Neil Rankin. So I guess I’m going to give it a try.
Ok i’m going too
Here we go. The mouthfeel is like meat.
Is like a citizen. If it had not been told to me, I would not have known. Neil, I’m examining meat grown by the lab.
Is this something you would cook with?
From a culinary point of view, I’m just like this food, we have food, we have a lot of it. We throw out food every day. I want to use it to cook something delicious. I can do it, I do not have to use it yet.
But I think it’s important, yes, I do. We need to focus on that, because it can be the reason for many communities that cannot grow food. We will experience problems with soil degradation in the future. Should they do it, yes. Do we need it now, absolutely not.
Although we can make meat in a laboratory, it will take a long time before it will have a real impact on our eating habits. And even then, it’s probably just a small piece of a broader strategy to reduce meat’s environmental impact.