Meet The Slaughter Free Meat Of The Future. Could Cell Based Meat Be The Answer?
Meat – It’s tender, juicy and sometimes looks like a chicken nugget…regardless of the fact that chickens don’t really have nuggets. Unfortunately the consumption of meat has caused more problems than it has solved and only now are we starting to realise the grim reality of feeding the growing population with animal products.
Meat production today uses one third of Earth’s fresh water and land surface and generates nearly one fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions. With a projected demand growing by nearly 70% by 2050, we know we are in desperate need of a solution
Thankfully we live in an age where solutions can be found basically anywhere. Some of which you may see in your grocery aisles sooner than you think. Such as California based start up Memphis Meats, one of the pioneers for growing animal products like beef without needing to harm any animals in the process.
In 2015 cardiologist Uma Valeti, M,.D. and cell biologist Nicholas Genovese, Ph.D. founded Memphis Meats after being inspired by the disease treating potential of stem cells in the medical field. For over a decade the pair researched, developed and eventually were able to translate that concept into the food industry via a new emerging technology titled cell based meat. The company released the world’s first cell-based meatball in February 2016 and the world’s first cell-based poultry in March 2017. But that was 5 years ago and ALOT has happened since.
In January 2020 the company reported tremendous breakthroughs, especially with their success in raising $161 million in series B funding – The largest funding round in the cell based meat industry. With the global demand for meat rapidly rising, the validity of cell based protein as a more sustainable food source is growing. Hence, why their most recent investments are going towards accelerating the process of getting their products to the market.
How Is Cell Based Meat Actually Made?
You know the story, the people behind it and where it’s going. But what exactly am I eating?
The answer is, meat. Animal Protein. A chicken nugget if you fancy. One of the key concepts to understand with cell based meat is that the end result is virtually the same as livestock production. The only difference is the process. Firstly, the production of animal products attained from traditional livestock methods usually involves a menagerie of resources. From years of time, large hectares of land, and 36-74 trillion gallons of water in the US alone. This doesn’t even taken into account the CO2 emissions, water pollution and deforestation that occurs throughout the animals lifecycle. All of this to achieve the cut of steak that we’re most familiar with.
The production of cell based meat on the other hand is quite different. It involves obtaining a few sample muscle tissue cells from the desired animal, a chicken for example. They are then dramatically multiplied by providing the cells with nutrient rich mixtures and optimal growing conditions. Think of it like a plant in a pot that needs water and soil for nutrition and the sun as an energy source. The cells then continue to grow in numbers until they become a harvestable size. According to Mosa Meat, a Dutch start up who is also manufacturing cell based meat, one tissue sample from a cow can yield enough muscle tissue to make 80,000 quarter-pounders. This is astronomically significant, especially when you consider the lower comparative footprint left behind.
In a study published in Environmental Science and Technology, the study stated that “it is estimated that lab-grown meat, involves approximately 7–45% lower energy use (only poultry has lower energy use), 78-96% lower GHG emissions, 99% lower land use, and 82–96% lower water use depending on the product compared.”
How Will Consumers React?
One of the biggest hurdles that companies will need to overcome when entering the market is whether it’ll be socially acceptable to begin eating cell-based meat. However, according to cell based meat manufacturers, the product will taste like the real thing because they are eating the real thing.
That’s just taste though. What about the actual nature of the food source? Reactions are expected to be mixed initially. However, there is an increasing number of consumers who value the benefits put forth by cell based meat and may choose to slowly integrate the product into their life. The obvious value propositions include the absence of animal cruelty and the low environmental impact.
Overall, only time will tell how these products are going to be received in the eye of the public. Perhaps they’ll undergo a similar pattern to the introduction of plant based meat – where it was once completely weird and odd, it is now completely acceptable and sold by leading food chains like McDonalds or KFC.