Israeli start-ups join the effort to develop lab-grown meat

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Israeli start-ups join the effort to develop lab-grown meat


Chef Amir Ilan prepares a lab-grown steak during a presentation by the Israeli company Aleph Farms, in Israel. [AP/YONHAP]

NESS ZIONA, Israel - Several Israeli start-ups have joined a handful of companies around the globe trying to develop lab-grown meat, something they see as a solution to the needs of the world’s ever-growing population and burgeoning demand for food.

The product has been known under different names, including cultured meat, in-vitro or artificial and “clean meat” - a term advocates say underscores its eco-friendly nature. It’s basically made of animal muscle cells grown in a culture in a lab, a technology similar to stem cells.

Although “synthetic steaks” are perhaps not a candidate for everyone’s favorite dish, they could someday compete with conventional chicken or beef, affordable price tags permitting.

“Producing meat is very inefficient,” said Yaakov Nahmias, a bioengineering professor at Hebrew University and founder of Future Meat Technologies. Cultured meat, by comparison, consumes “10 times less water, less land, less energy than the current meat production.”

Agriculture is estimated to generate around 13 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, with livestock alone responsible for two-thirds of those emissions, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

Israel has a thriving high-tech scene, so the pursuit of lab-grown meat was a natural avenue for its entrepreneurs, experts say. The government’s Innovation Authority has also sought to stimulate food-technology companies through grants and the financing of a $25 million food-tech incubator. Israel currently imports much of its meat and the government is invested in creating food security.

For observant Jews, several prominent Orthodox rabbis have already expressed approval for lab-grown meat being kosher. Because it doesn’t come from a slaughtered animal, some rabbis have even said cultured meat could be consumed as a cheeseburger - a combination of meat and milk otherwise forbidden in Jewish tradition.

The first lab-grown burger was made by a Dutch company in 2013 at a cost of over $300,000. Production costs have fallen in the years since. Last year, U.S.-based Memphis Meats’ ground beef alternative was reported to cost about $2,400 per pound. Each slice of Aleph Farms’ “steak” costs about $50 to produce.

Before it can hit the shelves, lab-grown meat will face regulatory obstacles. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in November they would “jointly oversee the production of cell-cultured food products derived from livestock and poultry.”

Cultured meat has already faced resistance from the U.S. meat industry and will probably face a label battle once it comes on the market.

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