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Lab-grown milk, eggs and meat could hit store shelves in 5 years

Eating meat, milk and other animal products is not just an ethic and moral issue that grieves vegan and vegetarians. Although extensive animal culture can be detrimental to the animals that are often forced to live in inhuman conditions, scientific studies warned about the harmful environmental effects of livestock production. Humans can be also exposed to various types of epidemics like mad cow disease or the bird flu, that often spread to uncontrollable proportions because animals are extensively bred in close quarter and in poor hygienic conditions. The idea of producing foods through cellular replication may provide an answer to both the growing pollution risk, and to the suffering of the animals raised in farm conditions. New companies are trying to replace slaughterhouses and dairy farms with clean labs, in order to produce cow-less milk, pig-less meat and hen-less eggs that may represent a much more palatable alternative to other solutions proposed to solve this issue such as eating insects.

Isha Datar, CEO of New Harvest, a non-profit U.S. research organization that funded this innovative research, explained how cellular agriculture may represent the future of human food production. In five to 10 years, these products may hit our shelves at reasonable prices, and help humanity reduce its dependence on animal farming. Yeast bacteria could be used to produce milk without milking cows, while beef can be literally “grown” from scrap by using living cells taken from animals. Cultured meat hamburgers have been already produced through this new method, although the cost required to produce it in a laboratory setting is still way too high (about $475,000 per piece). Muscle tissue is extracted from cows and muscle cells are then separated from the other tissues. Thanks to their natural spawning ability, cells can be replicated to trillions of copies, merging themselves in small pieces of muscle tissues that will form the “meatball.”

As the tissues that are replicated are taken from real animals, there won’t be any recognizable difference from common meatballs produced by killing live animals. There’s no reason to think that lab-cultured food may differ from the normal one, not even in how we digest and process what we eat. It may even be postulated that lab-grown food will be even healthier, due to the absence of artificial feedings or hormones that are often used to speed animals’ growth. People who tested the first cow-milk free appreciated its taste and texture, and even the first cow-free burger received positive reviews from taste-testers.

Other companies are trying to produce hen-free egg white with the same technique, and Arturo Elizondo, CEO of Clara Foods assured that in due time, its price may be even lower than the actual cost of full eggs. Although a reasonable time span for this to happen has been estimated as up to 15 years, if other organizations like New Harvest are able to secure more funding lab-cultured food may become a reality even earlier. The new cellular foods may entirely replace sausages, hot dogs and burgers produced from living animals in grocery stores, changing our eating habits. This revolutionary discovery has been compared to “what the car did to the horse and buggy” by Uma Valeti CEO of Memphis Meats, a company that produces lab-grown meat.

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