Paris company Gourmey sees a future for lab-grown cruelty-free foie gras

Duck with a pipe in his mouth, animal news
Duck is cruelly force-fed at a farm in France, credit: screenshot from footage Animal Equality

The French organization Gourmey raised $10 million (8.5 million euros) this month to make foie gras from duck cells grown in a lab.

Traditional French foie gras is made from the liver of a duck or goose. The animal is force-fed with a tube stuck down his throat.

The practice is extremely cruel and distressing for the animals and has been criticized by animal rights activists. California has outlawed foie gras sales for years, and New York plans to do so next year.

Britain forbids foie gras production and is considering a ban on sales. Last month, the European Parliament proposed to prohibit the forced feeding of ducks or geese.

“There’s a very strong need for an alternative to regular foie gras, a controversial product that needs to re-invent itself,” said Nicolas Morin-Forest, one of Gourmey’s three founders.

“We want to show that cultured meat is not limited to burgers but can also be used for gastronomic products,” he said.

Mass meat production is also heavily criticized by environmental campaigners. The animal farming industry consumes too much water and energy while producing huge amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas.

“With more than 9.5 billion human beings on the planet in 2050, we’re going to have to be producing much more meat. The conventional models that require significant resources won’t be enough,” Morin-Forest said.

Taste is almost perfect
Gourmey has spent the past two years developing their process for faux livers. The two other founders are Antoine Davydoff, a cellular biologist, and Victor Sayous, a doctoral student in molecular biology.

“In terms of taste and texture, we’re 90 percent there,” said Sayous, who comes from the foie gras heartland of southwest France.

“Last Christmas, I served it to my family on toasts, alongside traditional foie gras, without telling them. Some were blown away and hadn’t noticed the difference,” he said.

The faux foie gras recipe
Their recipe starts with taking cells from the fertilized duck egg and placing them in an aluminium “cultivator” where they swim in a nutrient solution maintained at 37 degrees Celsius (99 Fahrenheit).

As the cells divide and multiply, their “food” is adjusted to promote the growth of liver cells that are ready after two to three weeks.

A little vegetable fat is then added to obtain the creamy consistency, and chefs have been brought in to help fine-tune the results.

“It has taken us over 600 attempts. Several times a week, we tasted different formulas, and we’ve ended up with a recipe that is pretty decent, even if it’s not yet perfect,” Morin-Forest said.

With its latest funding round, Gourmey will move to a 1,000 square meter facility in central Paris. The start-up also aims to lower its costs and plans to start growing
chicken, turkey and duck meats.

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