Your Steak Could Come From an Israeli Factory
Health & WellnessFood

Your Steak Could Come From an Israeli Factory

What will be the world’s largest plant for the production of cultivated meat is going up in North Carolina.

Believer Meats already has a plant in Rehovot, Israel producing more than 1,100 pounds of cultivated meat every day // Photo Courtesy of Believer Meats
Believer Meats already has a plant in Rehovot, Israel producing more than 1,100 pounds of cultivated meat every day // Photo Courtesy of Believer Meats

Believer Meats, an Israeli biotechnology company, is building a plant in North Carolina to produce 10,000 metric tons of meat annually without ever slaughtering a single animal.

The $123 million plant, which was announced earlier this month, is said to be the world’s largest facility for the production of what is called “cultivated meat.” It is meat that is produced by growing and processing animal cells in an industrial laboratory environment to create a product that said to be indistinguishable from meat grown on a farm.

Biomedical engineer Yaakov Nahmias founded Believer Meats. He is the director of the Alexander Grass Center for Bioengineering at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and a faculty member at Harvard Medical School. He sees the new facility as part of what will one day be an important section of the nation’s food supply. The company opened a production line in Rehovot, Israel in 2021 and produces about 1,100 pounds of cultured meat each day at about $3.90 a pound.

Cultivated chicken breasts have the same taste, texture, and appearance as ordinary chicken // Photo Courtesy of Believer Meats

“As the demand for meat continues to grow in coming decades,” Dr. Nahmias says, “the current conventional meat industry won’t be able to meet the supply needed. That’s why we believe cultivated meat is needed to secure healthy, sustainable, and affordable nutrition for coming generations.”

Scientists like Nahmias point to the fact that, by 2050, the world’s population will be more than 9 billion persons and traditional agricultural systems will strain to produce an adequate meat supply. But unlike traditional animal production, the animal cells used in lab produced meat can be used over and over to produce a final product that is economical and environmentally friendly and doesn’t have a growth cycle that can be 10 months or more.

Believer Meats contends that its industrial process is highly efficient, producing yields from cells called fibroblasts that are harvested from an animal’s connective tissue. The technique produces meat in quantities that are 10 times higher than the industry standard. At the same time, the lab created meat is produced with 80 percent less greenhouse gas pollution, 99 percent less land use and 96 percent less water than conventional animal production.

Yaakov Nahmias, a Hebrew University professor, is the founder of Believer Meats.

Traditional producers are taking note as well. Among the $600 million the company has raised so far are investments from Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest chicken producer and ADM Ventures, part of Archer Daniels Midland, that owns 270 food processing plants around the world and is a major agricultural commodities trading corporation.

According to Nahmias, who also serves as the company’s chief science officer, the new plant is expected to be an industry leader in the future production of meat products.

“Our team has created a revolutionary technology,” Nahmias pointed out, “that blazed ahead of the field in terms of cost, safety and product experience.”

Just last month, the federal Food and Drug Administration gave tentative approval to lab grown meat. It announced that chicken produced by a California company, UPSIDE Foods, was “safe to eat.” FDA commissioner Robert Califf said that the “the world is experiencing a food revolution” directly related to the new technology.

Believer Meats will produce 10,000 metric tons of lamb and chicken annually in North Carolina.

“Advancements in cell culture technology are enabling food developers to use animal cells obtained from livestock poultry, and seafood in the production of food with these products expected to be ready for the U.S. market in the near future.”

While the North Carolina plant will initially produce only lamb and chicken, eventually it could produce beef as well. Although the kashrut questions surrounding cultivated meat are still being discussed, Dr. Nahmias believes that eventually the process he has commercialized will be found to be kosher.

He told Pax Lumina Magazine that the animal cells that his company uses are taken not from a living animal like stem cells but from the discarded fibroblast tissue of an animal slaughtered in a kosher manner. Therefore, it does not violate the probation in Deuteronomy that prohibits the consumption of meat that is derived from a living animal.

Under appropriate kashrut guidelines, the new plant might also be able to supply more steak products than are now available to the kosher consumer. Only five of the nine major meat sections in a cow are kosher. The highly prized beef tenderloin is not kosher because it is part of the animal’s hindquarter that is forbidden. But a lab grown tenderloin might be a very real possibility.

Not everyone in Dr. Nahmias’ family in Israel is as excited as he is by his progress so far. The biomedical innovator and entrepreneur who has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for his start-up that he hopes will change the world, is not likely to make much of a difference at home. His wife is a vegetarian.

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