Quilts. Twill. Corporate furniture. Test-tube beef?
The list of items made at Brooklyn Army Terminal is long and varied but the possible latest addition is raising eyebrows — and could one day raise blood pressure. Modern Meadow, a Missouri-based bio-tech firm, is ruminating on leasing space in the complex’s Biobat research park to bring “a leather and meat brewery” to the epicenter of all things culinary and couture.
“New York is the center of the fashion industry in the U.S., and one of the most exciting and creative food environments,” the company’s top executive Andres Forgacs told Crain’s New York, ignoring the fact that it is a long way from Sunset Park to Manhattan’s Seventh Avenue. “We look forward to working with talent on both fronts.”
But a company spokesperson declined to flesh out the company’s plans.
“We haven’t finalized decisions about Modern Meadow’s location. Brooklyn is an option which we are interested in pursuing,” said the company’s director of business development, Sarah Sclarsic.
Part bioengineering, part three-dimensional printing, the operation would be at home among Brooklyn Army Terminal’s other tech startups, but Forgacs told Crain’s he needs to find the right lab for his high-tech outfit.
To “grow” meat, scientists steep livestock stem cells in a nutrient-rich mixture. The cells replicate, forming ultra-thin layers of muscle tissue that scientists turn into steaks and handbags by layering the thin strips on one another, a la three-dimensional printing. The technology made its debut in medicine more than a decade ago, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been growing test-tube turkey meat since 2001.
About 30 organizations worldwide are working to make slaughter-free meat commercially viable, according Lindsay Rajt, spokeswoman for the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which approves of the growth industry.
Lab-grown meat costs no lives, cuts the greenhouse gasses given off by livestock rearing, and frees up resources, she said. Rajt said the initial cells do come from an animal, but the result is more ethical than the status quo.
“We’re really about the bigger picture,” she said. “We support anything that helps to reduce animal suffering, and this meat and leather fit the bill.”
Modern Meadow is focusing on leather production, and the company can already control the thickness, texture, and breathability of its product, Forgacs said when he unveiled samples last year.
“We can mimic nature, but also, in some ways, improve upon it,” he said.
On the food front, researchers need a little more time in the kitchen. Last August, a taste test panel found the first in vitro burger edible, but at $300,000, it was no cheap lunch. Mimicking texture is another major hurdle, and developments are slower to hatch on the poultry front.
“From what I’ve heard, they’re hoping they can one day get it to the level of a chicken nugget,” said Avery Medjuck, a waiter in Williamsburg who has been following news on what the industry sometimes calls “shmeat” (as in a “sheet of meat”).
Rajt said her organization is offering $1 million to anyone who can make an in vitro chicken nugget comparable to the real thing. Modern Meadow is considered a top contender, she said.