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Vegan Mayo Maker Hampton Creek Joins the Lab-Grown Meat Arms Race

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They’re aiming to get products out by 2018

Trevor Niekowal and Ben Roche in Hampton Creek labs
Hampton Creek

San Francisco’s plant-based food maker Hampton Creek has announced that it will now produce animal-free meat, joining the “clean meat” arms race of companies trying to produce lab-grown animal-matter meat, without the animal. CEO Josh Tetrick announced the plans on LinkedIn, writing that he hopes to get products in the marketplace by 2018. That could mean supplying grocery stores, restaurants, or both.

The Bay Area has become ground zero for technology and food companies developing both lab-grown meat and plant-based meat alternatives. That includes Hampton Creek’s now-direct competitor Memphis Meats, the San Leandro meat hopeful that has previously said they plan to get lab-grown meat on retailer shelves by 2021. Meanwhile, plant-based Impossible Foods is already serving its meatless, bleeding Impossible Burgers around San Francisco, on the menu at high-end restaurants like Jardiniere and Cockscomb; it’s also opened a large East Oakland production facility to hasten the product to supermarket shelves.

The movement towards lab-grown meats, which are grown in-vitro from cell cultures harvested from living animals, has been embraced by the vegan community, hailing it as “the beginning of the end for abusive animal ag industries.” In his LinkedIn post, Tetrick emphasizes that the impetus for the company’s research is less about animal rights and more about creating an environmentally sustainable and accessible food system for the planet. “At current rates, production of meat and seafood around the world will double to 1.2 trillion pounds by 2050,” he writes. “Our planet cannot afford to supply the water, fuel, pesticides, and fertilizer that industrialized animal production requires. It can’t afford the polluted water or the biodiversity loss. It can’t afford the moral inconsistencies.”

While Tetrick touts Hampton Creek’s scientific discoveries, others have questioned them. In 2015, unhappy Hampton Creek employees told Business Insider that Tetrick had overstated the company’s scientific claims, inflating the number of plant samples used, taking credit for recipes created by consultants rather than in the Hampton Creek lab, and celebrating dubious “breakthroughs.” A major investor joined Hampton Creek as chief strategy officer, only to cut ties with the company completely just nine days later.

Tetrick places the blame for most of Hampton Creek’s controversies on powerful companies and lobbies like Hellmann's Mayonnaise, who unsuccessfully sued the company for improper use of the word “mayonnaise” on an egg-free product. (Will the famously litigious chicken and beef industries follow suit?) More recently, Target began to remove Hampton Creek products from its stores over concerns regarding unconfirmed allegations of salmonella and listeria, as well as labeling issues. After hiring a third party firm to investigate, Hampton Creek says the findings proved the allegations to be false.

Updated 12:40 p.m. to more accurately reflect the nature of Hampton Creek’s alternative meat products. They’re developing lab-grown meat, not developing a plant-based fake-meat product.

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