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On the upside, no plucking necessary

Hart Attacks: Get ready for designer chicken, and cultured steaks. Meat technology has arrived

I knew when Case IH rolled out that robotic tractor that didn’t need a driver, it was only a matter of time before technology produced meat without an animal.

And here we have it — Memphis Meats, a food science company with headquarters in Transylvania has just launched “the world’s first Clean Poultry”… that’s chicken meat produced without the chicken. They don’t just produce chicken without the chicken, but also duck without the duck. Beef, pork, lamb and the always-tasty sushi is just a matter of time.

So how do they do it? The company didn’t reveal all its secrets but basically it involves exposing a small piece of animal tissue to highly toxic nuclear gamma rays, while chanting an ancient spell once used by witches during the fourth century BC of the Durid era. The tissue is then placed in a sterling silver container stolen from a church, buried in a pet cemetery and covered with moss from the Black Forest, left for 33 days and uncovered at the stroke of midnight. Viola… it turns into a chicken breast.

The idea of engineered or culture meat just makes me leery. We’ve got grass, we have grain. Is there really anything that bad about letting animals eat these God-given energy sources and then eating the animal? Apparently so.

The idea of these products isn’t new. In my extensive three minutes of research for this column I found even Winston Churchill had predicted engineered meat in 1931. “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium,” he is quoted as saying.

I admit my earlier description of the company and its meat producing process was somewhat shaded. The scientists and technicians behind this process don’t look like monsters and they don’t use any deadly technology or black magic. In fact they look like pretty nice, normal people.

Memphis Meats is headquartered in San Francisco. CEO and co-founder is a cardiologist by the name of Uma Valeti, who with his medical skills has saved a few lives. Also in business he has developed a number of food, medical and technical companies. Another co-founder is Nicholas Genovese, described as a stem cell biologist, meat-lover and vegetarian (not sure how that works). He raised poultry on his family farm. And another co-founder is Will Clem, who holds a PhD in biomedical engineering. His family, based in Memphis, Tennessee owns a chain of BBQ restaurants.

So these three, along with a team of technicians who all look like normal young people, have developed the technology where they can produce meat “from animal cells.”

“Memphis Meats’ poultry breakthrough was made possible by the unique technological platform that the company is building to produce new clean meat products and accelerate clean meat innovation,” says their release. “The multi-animal platform will allow the company to produce many types of meat and to fine-tune the taste, texture and nutrition profile of its products.”

Why are they doing it? Their website says they all love meat, but meat production comes with negative side effects such as environmental destruction, animal welfare concerns and “a slew” of health risks. They go on to say, with consumers spending $750 billion per year on meat and meat demand expected to double in the coming years, they were looking for a “better way to feed a hungry world.”

From an environmental standpoint they expect the production of their products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, land and water requirements by 90 per cent, compared to conventional meat production — and most importantly they’re delicious.”

I am curious to try engineered meat. After all I do like hot dogs and bologna and those are a couple meat products about which I don’t ask too many questions.

Memphis Meats has a tempting photo of chicken meat on a plate which looks pretty appealing. Of course it is also breaded and deep-fried and in my experience nothing bad ever came out of a pot of hot vegetable oil. Unless it is that dreaded genetically modified canola oil — then I would really face a dilemma.

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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