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Broilers & Layers

Chicken from the laboratory moves a step closer

March 23, 2015

Chicken from a test tube does not sound that appetizing to me, but this is exactly what’s being cooked up at a university in Israel.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University, together with the Modern Agricultural Foundation, have launched a feasibility study on cultured chicken breast production.

The study will determine, among other things, how cultured chicken meat, grown in a laboratory from stem cells, could be manufactured commercially, and examine the costs, technology and potential problems involved.

Where is the Frankenchicken?

If you weren’t surprised by that, you may be more surprised by some of the reasons given by the university for embarking on lab production of the meat that already has the quickest production cycle, and is the most economical to produce.

The university says: “There are many reasons to prefer cultured meat. First, the real thing isn’t exactly ‘real’ anymore. Animals raised for eventual slaughter are shot full of growth hormones and antibiotics, which are later ingested by people. Animal cruelty, which offends the values of many cultures, is another important reason, not to mention that health and safety regulations are often overlooked in factories.”

The university continues: “But even if meat could be produced humanely, naturally and safely, the world is fast approaching its production limit. By 2050, the world’s population is projected to reach 9.2 billion, and meat production will need to be at least double what it is today.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I am all for feeding the hungry millions expected to appear on the planet over the coming decades, but what I don’t recognize in the university’s justification for its work and its views on how poultry meat is produced.  

I had thought that, among other things, universities were home to science, and not the perpetuation of myths.

If you are a broiler producer, don’t look to sell your chicken farm just yet, as the work is at feasibility study stage, but Modern Agricultural Foundation co-founder, Shir Friedman, hopes to have produced “a recipe for how to culture chicken cells” by the end of the year.

Tech sector investment

The researchers say that their work is more difficult than producing the first lab-grown hamburger, which was cooked up at the University of Maastricht, The Netherlands, after five years of research financed by Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

And the initiative is not alone. Yahoo co-founder Jerry Land has invested in creating plant-based substitutes for eggs while Bill Gates and Twitter founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone, are said to have invested in a company called Beyond Meat.

According to one study, cultured meat would produce 96 percent less greenhouse gas, consume 82-96 percent less water and virtually eliminate the land requirements needed to raise livestock. 

Most people now recognize that climate change is a threat to the planet, so efforts to slow it should be applauded. But I wonder how Frankenchicken would be accepted by consumers?

It could, at first, be marketed as an expensive niche product, but branding might be an issue. Free range and organic, I am guessing, would be firmly off the menu.

But if laboratory-raised chicken breast really does prove to be commercially viable and accepted by consumers, I guess we had all better start looking for new jobs!

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