Photo Courtesy of Good Food Institute

An Impossible Foods’ plant based burger that Briana Cameron ’13 consulted on.

March 27, 2017

Chicken: Fresh From the Lab!

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Most burgers have their meat brought from slaughterhouses. Tasty though they may be, all forms of meat start off as a handful of cells. Flipping through your favorite restaurant’s menu, would you order a burger that contains chicken grown from a few cells in the lab? Briana Cameron ’13 and her team at the Good Food Institute, certainly hope so.

The Good Food Institute is a nonprofit that is harnessing the power of markets and technology to end factory farming and its negative effects. The institute works with entrepreneurs, scientists and policymakers to make plant-based alternatives and clean meat as tasty, affordable and accessible as possible so they can out-compete animal products in the marketplace.

In order to compete with animal products, Cameron works to make plant-based alternatives and clean meat as delicious, price-competitive and convenient as possible. She also hopes that environmental awareness will encourage people to change their eating habits.

“Studies consistently show that the primary factors in any consumer’s eating choices are taste, price and convenience,” Cameron said. “We are taking ethics off the table for consumers by making the sustainable and humane choice the default one. In doing so, we aim to address and solve some of our planet’s most pressing problems, from food security and antibiotic resistance to climate change and environmental degradation.”

Cameron wanted to help make a difference in the environment when she learned about sustainability issues associated with modern animal agriculture. Her focus is on launching new plant based and clean meat companies. This involves helping entrepreneurs with all aspects of starting a company, from developing ideas and writing business plans to helping companies find sources of funding and commercial facilities to develop their products.

Dr. Liz Specht, senior scientist at GFI, works with such startups. Poultry is produced directly from animal cells without breeding, raising or slaughtering any animals.

“This ‘clean meat’ is 100 percent animal meat, grown in cell culture,” Specht explained. “Rather than growing muscle tissue on live animals in a factory farm, producers take a few pig or chicken or cow cells and use a mixture of nutrients to grow those cells into muscle tissue. As a result, we get meat with no antibiotics, no E. coli or salmonella and no waste contamination — all of which are standard in conventional meat production.”

Specht hopes that her work will be able to increase the number of clean food sources available to the public. By replacing the products of factory farming with plant-based and clean alternatives, she and GFI aim to totally transform the food system. In the near future, they hope to commercialize clean meat by scaling up this production method. She also hopes to help more scientists and entrepreneurs start successful plant-based companies to improve the quality and quantity of animal-free foods.

“I knew that decreasing our dependence on factory farmed meat was essential for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing water use and pollution, and protecting biodiversity, but through my background in nutrition and public health, I knew that education alone often isn’t enough to change dietary behavior,” Cameron said. “I’m excited to be supporting innovation in food technology that makes it easier for people to make decisions that are better for the planet and public health.”

Cameron also hopes that her work will have a larger impact, specifically in the field of food science.

“We are working to revolutionize the food industry,” she said. “We are focused on transforming animal agriculture by promoting the commercial success of clean meat and plant-based alternatives — that is, by making healthier and more sustainable options more convenient, delicious and price-competitive.”