TEL AVIV – The founders of an Israeli food tech startup want you to enjoy your meat without the guilt – in fact, without the animal.
SuperMeat, which launched in December and began an online crowdfunding campaign in July, is developing a method for bioengineering “cultured meat” from animal cells. Its tagline: “Real meat, without harming animals.”
Imagine a chicken breast without the chicken, developed in a machine from cells taken from a living bird and cultured in a nutrient-rich stock.
The company has won notice in Israel with slick marketing, celebrity endorsements and news coverage. But the increased awareness has raised tough questions for two highly principled groups of Israeli eaters: Kashrut observers and vegans.
SuperMeat’s co-founder and co-CEO, Koby Barak, himself a longtime vegan and animal rights activist, said his company’s cultured meat will be both kosher and vegan-friendly, and he has the supporters to prove it.
“I have spoken to about 10 rabbis and I don’t see any problem. It will be kosher,” Barak told JTA. “The vast majority of the vegan-vegetarian movement is very supportive, and we thank them for really supporting us.”
Among rabbis and vegan activists, though, the debate over exactly what to make of SuperMeat, and cultured meat in general, is far from resolved.
SuperMeat is not the first cultured meat company, but it is the first to focus on chicken. Others have already produced beef, and at least one is working on pork. Mark Post, who made headlines with the first cultured hamburger in 2013, told JTA he hopes to be the first to get his product, recently branded Mosa Meat, to market – in four to five years.
What SuperMeat thinks makes it unique is its patented technology, which is being developed by a company co-founder and its head of research, Yaakov Nahmias, a biomedical engineer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Production is to work like this: Cells will be harmlessly taken from a chicken and put into a special machine that simulates the bird’s biology, allowing them to self-assemble into meat.
Barak said the process could revolutionize how the world eats, striking a major blow against environmental degradation, animal suffering and global health pandemics.