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SF Startup's Lab-Grown Chicken Nugget Passes Taste Test

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- The future of meat production may be in a lab, and San Francisco food startup Just is on a mission to make eating well easy and sustainable.

At the company's headquarters in the Mission District, scientists are growing meat from animal cells. KPIX 5 reporter Betty Yu got to taste a chicken nugget that came from the cells of a chicken that is still alive and free.

Just Chicken Nugget (CBS)
Just's fried chicken nugget (CBS)

"What we do is we work with farmers. We get a cell from their animals because they know their animals the best, we get it from the root of a feather, a slaughtered piece of meat, a biopsy," explained Josh Tetrick, CEO and co-founder of Just.

"We bring that cell in, we find nutrients to enable that cell to grow and we manufacture meat in the cleanest, safest possible way."

The company's latest iteration of the chicken nugget is not yet commercially available, but Just scientists are harvesting and studying cells from cows, too.

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In another lab, scientists are figuring out protein contents with the help of robots. The cells are fed nutrients and put in machinery that eventually grows to make meat. Ultimately, Just is trying to figure out how to make the process of creating cell-based meat affordable for consumers.

"The reality is there's billions and billions of chickens that are confined and killed every single year," said Tetrick.

"Hundreds of thousands of chickens in a very small area, kind of cramped eating soy and corn that requires a lot of land and a lot of water, and is responsible for an enormous amount of greenhouse gas emissions. There's also a lot of antibiotics used in the system," he added.

Just doesn't need to use antibiotics or even the whole animal. The company has already launched "Just Egg" in grocery stores and restaurants across the country. It's a plant-based liquid egg substitute.

In four months, it's sold the equivalent of three million chicken eggs. Next, Just plans to make Wagyu beef from cells--the company announced a partnership with a high-end Japanese supplier.

But all of Just's ambitions still need the green light from both the USDA and FDA. The technology they use is still new, but the two agencies recently announced that they would oversee the production of cultured meat.

"Some day--it could be 10 years from now, 20 years from now--will not have required a single animal. Will not have required confinement and all the environmental issues... the technology is there to do it. I think the will from society is there to do it," said Tetrick.

While Just waits for the regulatory framework to be established, the company plans to first launch its chicken nugget in Asia sometime in 2019.

Just is one of several Bay Area companies shaping the future of agriculture; Memphis Meats engineered a cell-based meatball in 2016.

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