Foie gras has become almost synonymous with animal cruelty. The Californian ban on the French delicacy was recently controversially overturned, giving rise to a new wave of campaigns protesting the force-feeding of geese. Nonetheless, the foie-gras market is still worth US$3bn globally, and die-hard fans of the artisanal food are a long way away from giving it up.
However, with technology advancing by the day, we’re starting to see new options open up to consumers. A team of scientists at innovative food producer Hampton Creek is working to create the world’s first lab-grown, cruelty-free foie gras, while developing cell lines of various other species at the same time. By taking small biopsies of muscle, cells can be cultured to grow outside of animal’s bodies while leaving the animals themselves alone. Hampton Creek (recently renamed Just) is one of a handful of startups developing ‘clean meat’ and attempting to bring it into the mainstream. It’s the same company that’s behind a range of plant-based alternatives to traditional animal products, such as egg replacer Just Scramble. If they take off, such ventures could go a long way to mitigate against the environmental effects, food insecurity and ethical issues surrounding the production of conventional meat, poultry and dairy products.
Foie gras is first on the radar because the product is marketed at a high enough price to make the clean-meat alternative adequately cost-competitive. There’s some debate over whether those still eating foie gras are as concerned about animal welfare as those that have already stuck it off their menu – it’s possible that most people eating foie gras are well aware of how it is produced, yet eat it anyway. Nonetheless, the development of clean foie gras marks an important landmark in the battle against factory farming. If we’re prepared to open our minds to the possibility of lab-grown meat, the future of food could be brighter than we thought.