Artificial meat production – theory or practice?


Experts have been debating about the possibility of creating artificial meat for many years. Now it´s happening. Jumping from theory to practice, though, implies several health and ethics considerations that should not be ignored.

    1. The facts. Following the creation of artificial meatballs last year, the San Francisco-based Memphis Meats startup have now announced the world’s first lab-grown chicken strips.
    2. How? Artificial meat is made in vitro, i.e from pieces of lab-grown muscle tissue instead of living animals. Select mother cells are grown under sterile conditions in order to produce muscle tissue with meat characteristic texture and flavour. The cells nourish on water, sugars and vitamins, and keep reproducing until the flesh has got the desired size. On average, sizes fit for consumption can be reached within 4-6 weeks.
    3. The claims. According to Memphis Meats, artificial meat properties are equal to the conventional meat´s we consume, only the origin changes. They claim this production method to be a more sustainable way to produce protein, as not only the feedstock and slaughter are removed, but also the grain and water these animals consume, the land they use and the waste they generate.
    4. Why chicken? Chicken is the most popular protein in USA. On average, each American ate about 40 kg of poultry in 2016, and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that chicken will come the world’s most-consumed meat by 2020.
    5. And duck. In addition to chicken, Memphis Meats announced earlier in March that they have cultivated lab-grown duck as well. This meat is very popular in China, where average yearly duck consumption is 3 billion Tones, more than the sum of the rest of countries in the world.
    6. When will it be marketed? The company plans to do so by 2021.
    7. Are there any constraints?
      1. Since the current cost of production is ca. 19000$/kg, the efficiency of the production process must improve before cultured meat can be marketed at an affordable price (average price for chicken breast is 7€/kg).
      2. Prior to its marketing, Health Authorities will have to confirm artificial meat is fit for human.  
      3. Many consumers may find lab-grown meat unappealing or “unnatural”, so it is expected that people will need time to warm up to the concept. It may take a few years/decades before cultured meat is fully embedded into our way of eating.

Who is up for the challenge, would you be keen on trying cultured meat?



Further reading:

The ethics of producing in vitro meat”.

Future Food: in vitro meat

Challenges and prospects for consumer acceptance of cultured meat

PhD Edurne Gastón Estanga
Project Manager Officer
PhD Food Science and Technology

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