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Could lab-grown meat one day match the real thing?

The next big trend in eating meat may be eliminating the need for animals at all. 

That's the belief of participants in a pair of panels at food trend forecaster Datassential's Foodscape conference in Chicago on Thursday.

Meat alternatives are growing in popularity as Americans aim to eat less red meat for health reasons and put more emphasis on environmentally friendly diets. About 70 percent of Americans eat meat, Datassential said, but most are trying to eat less. And a large number of those people who are trying to reduce their intake say they don't know enough plant-based alternatives or worry they won't provide enough protein, according to Datassential. 

Todd Boyman, CEO of plant-based meat-maker Hungry Planet, says that the meat alternative market has improved significantly since veggie burgers first came on the market decades ago, offering what he refers to as "hockey puck experiences." Today, his St. Louis-based company makes a burger that he says is virtually indistinguishable from beef, and it soon will offer chicken and pulled pork. 

The other blossoming technology in meat alternatives is so-called lab-grown meat, which uses animal meat that's replicated outside of the cow, pig or chicken. 

San Francisco-based Memphis Meats, which makes chicken, duck and beef meatballs, likens its production facility to a beer brewery, according to the company's head of missions and business David Kay. The production uses 90 percent less gas than traditional meat production, he said. 

Demand for meat worldwide is expected to double by 2050 largely because of the exploding population. But because meat alternatives are growing in popularity, panelists including Kay believe that plant-based and lab-grown meat consumption could eventually grow to match conventional meat consumption. 

sbomkamp@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @SamWillTravel

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