American fast food chain KFC is working toward creating the “world’s first laboratory-produced chicken nuggets,” according to a company press release. Unlike some other lab-grown meats, they won’t technically be vegetarian, because they will include actual chicken cells.
To create this “meat of the future,” the chain is partnering with Russian startup 3D Bioprinting Solutions to use “chicken cells and plant material” to print nuggets layer by layer. KFC claims the approach is more ethically and environmentally sound, as it reduces the need for farming animals.
Founded in 2013 by Russia’s largest private medical company, Invitro, 3D Bioprinting Solutions creates multifunctional 3D printers including bioprinters that are able to produce tissue and organ-based products. In a test aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2018, for example, the firm’s 3D printer was used to print human cartilage tissue and a rodent thyroid gland.
However, back on planet Earth, the company is setting its sights on the potential of 3D-printed, lab-grown chicken nuggets. KFC and the Moscow-based company will aim to create cell-based chicken “as close as possible in both taste and appearance” to the restaurant’s original product while remaining environmentally friendly.
KFC said that exploring 3D printing as a means to produce the “meat of the future” has been prompted by “the need to develop more environmentally friendly methods of food production,” as well as to cater to rising consumer demand for alternatives to traditional meat.
The laboratory-produced chicken nuggets will be made up of tissues grown from chicken cells combined with plant material to replicate the taste and texture of typical chicken. The bio-printed meat will then be spiced and breaded “to achieve the signature KFC taste,” the food chain said.
The need to innovate has already been demonstrated by KFC with the upcoming US launch of plant-based ‘fried chicken’ developed by Beyond Meat, a company that specializes in plant-based meat alternatives.
The mass production of lab-grown food is a challenging prospect, but due to environmental and animal welfare concerns of raising livestock and poultry to cater to meat demand, the idea is being widely explored.
According to a 2011 study conducted by Oxford University and the University of Amsterdam, producing so-called cultured meat to replace farming of pigs, sheep and cows could cut greenhouse gases by up to 96 percent. In addition, the researchers estimate that cultured meat production could eventually require 45 percent less energy, 99 percent lower land use and 96 percent lower water use than conventional animal agriculture.
Poultry would take more energy to produce in this way, but require far less water and land than traditional chicken rearing.