NESS ZIONA, June 25 – It looks like chicken and tastes like chicken, but diners in Israel are feasting on lab-grown “meat” that scientists say is an environmentally friendly way to feed the world’s growing population.
In a small restaurant in a nondescript building in a science park in the central Israeli town of Ness Ziona, diners munched on hamburgers and ground-meat rice rolls made with “cultured chicken” – meat grown at the adjacent SuperMeat production site.
“It was delicious, the flavor was great,” said Gilly Kanfi, a self-proclaimed “meat-eater” from Tel Aviv, who had signed up for the meal months in advance.
“If I didn’t know, I would have thought it was a regular chicken burger.”
The Chicken, as the restaurant is called, is a sort of testing ground for SuperMeat, hosting periodic test meals to generate customer feedback while awaiting regulatory approval.
The restaurant’s dark and sleek interior is framed by floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a light-filled laboratory, where technicians watch large stainless steel fermentation vats.
“This is the first time in the world that people can actually taste a cultivated meat product, while observing the production and the manufacturing process in front of their eyes,” said Ido Savir, CEO of SuperMeat.
Here, at least, the lab has made the age-old question of whether the chicken or the egg come first redundant.
The process involves culturing cells taken from a fertilized chicken egg.
Cell cultures are fed a plant-based liquid that includes proteins, fats, sugars, minerals, and vitamins.
With all the food that goes directly into production, it grows rapidly, doubling in mass within hours, according to the company.
Savir, a vegan with a background in computer science, sees himself as being at the forefront of a food revolution trying to help provide food while limiting the impact on the planet.
The developers have said they are working to provide more ethical and sustainable ways to create cruelty-free and slaughter-free meat, with the product grown without the use of genetic engineering or antibiotics.
The company is currently able to produce “hundreds of kilograms” every week, Savir said.
But he hopes to get regulatory approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, and then ramp up production to a “commercial” scale.
“In this way, we will be able to reduce the amount of land, the use of water and so many other resources, and keep the product very healthy and clean,” he said, noting the high prevalence of disease in factory-produced chickens. .
Global meat production is expected to increase by 15% by 2027, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
SuperMeat is not the first to develop the technology. In December, a Singapore restaurant made history by becoming the first to sell lab-grown chicken meat.
The Israeli company has developed a versatile product, mixing muscle, fat and connective tissue cells to create different cuts, including even pet food.
Zhuzha, a white bull terrier attending the meal with his owner, enthusiastically devoured the SuperMeat dog food given to him.
“Pets love our meat too,” Savir said with a smile.
Human diners said the product was as good as the real thing.
“It really surprised me,” said Lisa Silver, a regular meat eater. “If I can get that in a restaurant, I’ll go vegan, totally.” He’s a game changer.
For her sister Annabelle, it was the first time in years that she had eaten meat.
“One of the reasons I originally went vegetarian was because it’s not ethical, it’s not sustainable,” she said.
“Having meat without the cruelty is just amazing, it’s perfect, I could eat it every day.”
But the question of whether the product should be considered meat arises not only for vegetarians, but also for Jewish rabbinical authorities.
Producing cruelty-free meat without harming the environment is a positive development that “will save global problems,” said Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz, member of the Council of Chief Rabbis of Israel.
While the rabbis are expected to learn and oversee the new process, Weisz said he expects the product to eventually receive a kosher designation.
Tal Gilboa, a prominent vegan activist who served as an advisor to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel was leading the way in cultured meat technology.
Gilboa would like the world to turn to a plant-based diet and see cultivated meats as a pragmatic way for people to take the first steps towards vegetarianism.
“The world’s population is growing at breakneck speed,” she said, adding that the only way to keep pace would be “through technology”.
Savir believes that technology could change humanity for the better.
“As we have seen with the smartphone revolution, once it becomes available we will start producing so much meat,” he said.
“It would increase food security for nations around the world, a very sustainable, animal-friendly and efficient process. “- AFP