CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – You’ve heard of farm-to-table, but if scientists have anything to say about it, you could be enjoying your meals lab-to-table in the next couple of years.
There’s a growing interest from companies and countries around the world looking to bring beef, chicken, and other proteins grown in a petri dish, to your grocery store and favorite restaurants.
Free range, non-GMO, organic, lab-grown?
One of these terms is not like the other when we talk about chicken, but Dr. Paul Mozdziak, a professor at the Prestage Department of Poultry Science at NC State University, has been thinking and talking about it for years.
“Cultivated meat, I think is something that’s very, very intriguing,” he said.
Dr. Mozdziak is actually doing it too, in the basement of Scott Hall on NC State’s campus.
He explained to Queen City News how growing animal proteins in a lab works.
“By going into an animal and taking a small biopsy of the muscle, you can take the cells out that give rise to the muscle tissue and you can grow them in-vitro,” he said, “And so basically, you can take a small biopsy from the animal, isolate the muscle cells, and then you can propagate those in-vitro to create meat.”
Dr. Mozdziak said that from that small biopsy, they’ve successfully been able to grow about 100mg of chicken protein in about 2 weeks.
It’s a process several companies want to repeat over and over on a grand scale.
In November, the FDA deemed lab-grown meat “safe for human consumption” based on evidence from start-up Upside Foods.
Dr. Mozdziak has presented his own research to the FDA in years past and explains why it should be considered safe.
He said, “The only thing we’re doing is taking cells and we’re growing them in a controlled environment with known substances, that we know aren’t harmful – I mean, natural substances found in the body. And the only thing we’re doing is recreating what happens in-vitro anyway.”
Companies interested in the cultivated meat space taut the product as an eco-friendly and slaughterless alternative to traditional animal proteins, but Dr. Mozdziak sees other benefits, citing expected population growth by 2050.
“From a worldwide standpoint, we’re going to have a lot more people on this planet in the next 20 or 30 years, that are going to need sources of protein to nourish themselves, that they find to be tasty,” Dr. Mozdziak said.
But we wanted to know if the products grown in the lab were actually tasty, to which Dr. Mozdziak said,
“I think it tastes excellent. Really.”
Chicken farmers would tend to disagree.
“I can assure you that it won’t taste as good,” said Adam Shumate, the Owner of Eden Farms in Clover, SC.
From sterile steel and glass to dirt and grass, the tales of these two meats and the environments couldn’t be more different.
“I know it sounds crazy, but a happy chicken is a tasty chicken,” claimed Shumate.
Shumate runs his family’s small operation on dozens of acres of land with a much different approach to raising a tasty bird.
“We raise them on pasture grass. They are moved every day to fresh grass, fresh water, they get sunlight, that sort of thing, plenty of room to run around. We feed them clean, organic, locally milled food,” explained Shumate.
With that in mind, Shumate will be fast to tell you that he thinks lab-grown meat is for the birds.
He said, “We’re not very excited or interested in chicken that has grown from stem cells in a laboratory.”
It’s not because he sees it as competition though, even faced with the plant-based movement that’s propping up popular brands like Beyond and Impossible Meats.
Shumate said, “We’ve actually had more customers come in, in certain aspects because they’ve started the thought process of where their food comes from. They like the fact that they can come here and see how the chickens are treated, see how they’re raised, see how their vegetables are grown.”
Dr. Mozdziak said the goal is not to put farmers out of business, but rather to work with them.
“Personally, I don’t see cultivated meat replacing animal agriculture. I see it as another mode to produce animal protein, all of which I think is a very, very good thing,” he said.
He said that realistically, we are years away from seeing lab-grown meat like what we see at the grocery store. Right now, he described the product that they can grow as being closer to a processed chicken nugget.
He also stated that the price of cultivated meat will be significantly more expensive at first.