Tyson Foods, Inc. is one of America’s favorite food companies and also lays claim to the title of largest meatpacker in the United States.
But in the past few decades, the company has increasingly relied on unnatural practices and factory farm production methods.
Recently, Tyson also found itself on the receiving end of a rash of bad publicity after research from two major environmental organizations linked it to the largest dead zone in U.S. history due to factory farm runoff.
Now, the company is raising more than a few eyebrows with its latest announcement: an investment in a controversial lab-created meat production company out of Israel that could change the way we eat meat forever.
Tyson Foods Joins Bill Gates, Invests Big in Lab Grown Meat
Lab grown meat has been touted as a sustainable, “healthy” and environmentally friendly and animal cruelty-free solution for the future, but it may not be all it’s cracked up to be if the early returns are any indication.
That’s because the early versions of this product have a dirty little secret: most lab grown meat is created either by brewing it in giant vats of GMO yeast, or through the use of something called fetal bovine serum, a byproduct used to created using cow fetus blood.
To be fair, Gates and Richard Branson’s start-up company, Memphis Meats, has figured out a way to avoid using the latter process.
But the use of GMO yeast to create a substance that could replace one of the most widely eaten foods in the U.S. is still concerning to many, especially considering the lack of long-term safety testing.
Tyson is undeterred, and seems poised to abandon many of the natural production methods that helped build its foundation in favor of this new “Frankenmeat.”
The company has teamed up with Gates’ Memphis Meats, and just announced its latest deal, a $2.2 million investment in the Israeli Company Future Meat Technologies, according to this report from Bloomberg.
Israeli Company Teams With Tyson to Flood the Industry with Lab Grown Meat
The new Tyson Foods investment in Future Meat Technologies will be aimed at producing meat directly from animal cells, without the need to raise or harvest any actual animals.
According to a report from Food Navigator, the Israeli company does not use GMO yeast or fetal bovine serum in its process, and it believes it can cut the price of its lab grown meat down to about $2.27 per pound by the year 2020.
“This is our first investment in an Israel-based company and we’re excited about this opportunity to broaden our exposure to innovative, new ways of producing protein,” said Justin Whitmore, Tyson’s executive vice president for corporate strategy. “We continue to invest significantly in our traditional meat business but also believe in exploring additional opportunities for growth that give consumers more choices.”
The process will reportedly involve the use of mesenchymal cells from chickens, which grow faster than other cell types and are eventually turned into cultured meat products and artificially created animal fats.
“This is our first investment in an Israel-based company and we’re excited about this opportunity to broaden our exposure to innovative, new ways of producing protein,” said Tyson Foods EVP Corporate Strategy and Chief Sustainability Officer Justin Whitmore to the Israeli business publication Globes. “We continue to invest significantly in our traditional meat business but also believe in exploring additional opportunities for growth that give consumers more choices.”
Future Meat Technologies CEO Rom Kshuk believes his company’s products are needed because of the explosive growth of the meat industry predicted to occur in China and other parts the world, and also because of their ability to reduce environmental impacts of the factory farmed meat industry.
Traditional Meat Industry Fights Back Against Lab-Grown Meat
Despite optimism for the new lab grown meat products, it’s still unknown whether consumers will embrace this radical change to the food supply.
Already the U.S. Cattleman’s Association has come out against these lab creations and moved to prevent them from being called “meat” or “beef,” petitioning the U.S. Department of Agriculture in to change the definition to animals “born, raised and harvested in a traditional manner.”
But if the past is any indication, the new lab grown meat is likely to hit store shelves soon, whether consumers and ranchers like it or not.
One FDA spokesperson told Food Navigator that it “seems reasonable” to think that cultured meat could be consumed safely.
Whether the long term health effects of this new type of meat will match up with early stage safety declarations, or whether the meat will actually be labeled as lab grown, remains to be seen.
At any rate, with major players like Tyson and Bill Gates behind it, the lab grown meat revolution seems like a foregone conclusion, and consumers will have some tough choices to make on their future trips to the grocery store.
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This article was originally written in May 2018.