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A sustainable seafood alternative: lab-grown fish sticks


There's a new option in the pipeline for consumers who want sustainable meat alternatives. Bluu Seafood, based in Germany, is one of a number of companies working to bring lab-grown fish to a plate near you. The company says it's created the first market-ready fish sticks and fish balls from cultivated cells. Chris Dammann is the chief operating officer of Bluu Seafood and joins us now. Welcome.

CHRIS DAMMANN: Hello. Nice to be here on NPR.

RASCOE: So help me to understand - what does cultivated cells mean?

DAMMANN: Well, these are cells from any animal or any other organism that are being grown in a vessel. So you give them a nutritious solution, and they just grow as they would usually do in the - in an animal - for example, in our case, fish. But they do that in a big tank, for example, in a container that is controlled.

RASCOE: And so how do you get the fish stick from that culture of cells?

DAMMANN: Yeah. Many people ask that. So when you grow the cells and you harvest them from this big tank, you have just a big mass. It's, like, a little bit translucent. So it looks already like raw fish. And then you mix it with maybe some plant material, some plant proteins to give it a little bit of texture and structure that holds together. And you can extrude it in any form you like. So we can make fish sticks. We can make balls. But you could make anything else out of it.

RASCOE: So the cells that you're using come from a fish, but no fish are harmed to make it. So would this be considered vegetarian, and are the cells alive?

DAMMANN: The cells are alive, of course. They grow. They just don't grow in the fish. They grow outside of the fish. But we provide all the nutrients they need. The nutritional content will be the same. So you would have the same kind of proteins, the same kind of minerals, omega-3s. All of this you will have, but it's definitely not vegetarian because it's animal protein. So if you are allergic to fish, you will have an allergic reaction to our product. So it's really like fish. Yes.

RASCOE: But I guess part of the reason why you would want to do this is because commercial fishing also has very serious environmental issues, right? So this process would address some of those environmental concerns.

DAMMANN: Yes, absolutely. I think when you look at the industrial-style fisheries - so not the small ones, but the real industrial-style fishery is really destroying our oceans. There's so much bottom trawling and other fishing methods. There's just so much taken out of the ocean. And the other one is, of course, our oceans get more and more polluted. So a lot of fish has microplastics in there or can have some other environmental pollutions. Not all fish, but as a consumer, do you know which ones? So that is a real problem.

And I think we are solving, you know, many of these by using basically one fish at the beginning, and then you can make enough out of it, you know, like a million fish. And of course, we have no impact from the environment on our products because it's a controlled environment. I mean, they are in a big, like, brewery-style building. It's sterile. So there is none of these mercury or microplastics in it. So I think there are two things that we address with this technology.

RASCOE: What do you say to those consumers that might be put off by this idea of cultivated-cell fish product? People might be put off, like, I don't - it grew a lab? I don't know about that.

DAMMANN: When you make cheese, when you make, you know, kimchi, you know, sour dough, yeah, that's cells that multiply exponentially. And we do the same thing. I think people have this imagination because of the - what they read that this is something weird, but at the end it's really something that we're doing for hundreds of years.

RASCOE: That's Chris Dammann, chief operating officer of Bluu Seafood. Thank you for being with us.

DAMMANN: Thank you. It's such a pleasure to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carly Rubin
Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.