Photo: Professor Mark Post shows the world's first lab-grown beef burger during a launch event in west London August 5, 2013. The meat in the burger has been made by knitting together around 20,000 strands of protein that has been cultured from cattle stem cells in Post's lab. REUTERS/David Parry/pool
San Francisco area start-up Memphis Meats revealed mid-March that it has developed lab-grown edible chicken and duck from stem cells of healthy animals. Doing the birds no harm, the company created meals with taste and texture comparable to the real thing. At their unveiling ceremony, they served samples of southern fried chicken and duck à l'orange.
Uma Valeti, cardiologist, CEO and Memphis Meats co-founder, declared, “Meat production has been essentially unchanged since we first domesticated farm animals 12,000 years ago. We think it’s long overdue for innovation.”
A company press release (pdf) explains, “Modern meat production creates big problems for the environment, animal welfare and human health. It is also inefficient.” The technology to create what the company calls “clean meat” eliminates feed, breeding, and slaughter, and brings enormous potential, as it is touted to be able to produce quality meat on one tenth of the land and water, and uses less than one half the energy to produce conventional meat. There are not the usual waste disposal problems nor threat to human health for the employees who produce the products.
Duck à l'orange made with Memphis Meats' lab-grown duck. Courtesy Memphis Meats
The process involves choosing the most viable and appropriate cells to acquire the best taste, texture, and aroma. Culturing is done in stainless steel bioreactor tanks and requires four to six weeks to complete, depending on the cut.
This is not Memphis Meats’ first offering. In January 2016, the company launched its well-publicized cultured meatball video, whereby the team successfully grew meat cells, brought a chef to spice and cook an Italian meatball, and found the results to be just what one would expect when cooking regular meat.
‘CLEAN’ BUT COSTLY
Data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicates that the production of poultry has risen in the U.S. as well as demand, probably due to the higher cost of red meat. The average price for commercially raised chicken is $2.16 per pound. Memphis Meats’ chicken costs $9,000 per pound, but that is significantly better than the $18,000 cost per pound of their famous clean meatball from a year ago.
Memphis Meats isn’t alone in the search for “meat without murder”. Animal welfare organization People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) since 2008 has a $1 million prize to the first scientist to produce and bring to market in vitro chicken meat. PETA believes “it’s the first important step toward realizing the dream of one day putting environmentally sound, humanely produced real meat into the hands and mouths of the people who insist on eating animal flesh.”
But will consumers be accepting of this new type of meat?
Focus group research indicates that for some people animal welfare is not a priority; and that although individuals considered that the technology would be of benefit to other people, they were not so interested in considering it for their personal consumption.
Also, many were not thoroughly aware of the realities of conventional mass food production hazards; therefore, they may have not had a higher valuation of what the benefits of this technology suggests. Surprisingly, their assumption was that this was being produced by a well-funded corporation, not a donor-dependent start-up. It will be interesting to see this industry mature.
Memphis Meats will want to export its products to the world, but will its ‘clean meat’ be considered halal?
Seeking clarification, Salaam Gateway understands the American Halal Association has reached out to leadership of Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America to render a religious reference; but as they are in their annual conference, they have not yet provided a reply. At least the timing should be optimal for the topic to be discussed, and we hope an opinion will come soon.
AHA also contacted faculty versed in Food Technology at Texas A & M to enquire if the process could be sanctioned as halal, but no reply was received by the time of publication.
But Memphis Meats’ lab-grown meat is not without precedence and previously-released cultured meats have not been ruled out by Islamic jurists.
In 2013 when the first test-tube beef burger was born, concocted by Dutch vascular biologist Mark Post, the Islamic Institute of Orange County in California, USA, said, “There does not appear to be any objection to eating this type of cultured meat.”
The IIOC’s opinion is echoed by Dr Abdul Qahir Qamar, Director of Fatwa Department of the International Islamic Fiqh Academy of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). In order for Mark Post’s cultured meat to be halal, he said in 2013, “The myoblasts must be taken from animals considered halal; products from pigs, dogs or wild animals with fangs or any other animals considered haram in Islamic law should not be used in any stage of the production process and neither should substances such as blood; and such products should not be detrimental or cause any harm to humans or the environment in any way.”
Photo: Chef Richard McGeown cooks the world's first lab-grown beef burger during a launch event in west London August 5, 2013. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Generally, if the process precludes using anything that involves exposing the food to haram ingredients—including those used for cleaning the cells and equipment, chemicals, and culturing of the product—it would be considered halal.
The future of cultured food production, which includes for the halal sector as well, is fast approaching as Memphis Meats expects to have market presence by 2021.
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