Animal lovers, vegetarians, vegans, environmentalists: take a look. This company has just received an investment injection to commercialise their animal-free animal leather. Yes, animal-leather without the need of the animal – how's that possible? And could this mean a more humane and less resource-intensive animal breeding industry? Read on.
Using collagen protein and other essential building blocks present in animals skin, Modern Meadow has developed a system to manufacture leather that does not involve killing or harming animals – a process known as bio-fabrication. The company is able to grow collagen from which they are able to create a leather 'hide', a leather product that doesn't just have the traditionally-produced animal leather's suppleness and breathability, but that boasts also a number of enhanced features, when compared to it.
According to Modern Meadow, bio-fabricated leather can be produced to desired structural and aesthetic properties to match its diverse uses' requirements, is stronger and, because it does not depend on the shape and size of the animal, the resulting leather can be of exactly the required size, thus minimising waste.
Indeed, on their website the company reports that such features, in addition to lower inputs of land, water, energy and chemicals (e.g. the tanning process is meant to be less intensive too), their bio-fabricated leather can reduce waste by up to 80 per cent, when compared to traditional leather.
So how do they actually do it?
Through a DNA engineering process, Modern Meadow have been editing animal skin cells DNA to instruct them to produce exactly the desired type and quantity of collagen. By putting this edited DNA into new cells, as they reproduce they too are able to produce collagen, together with other proteins needed to create leather. As collagen molecules grow, they bind into each other to form a network of fibres, which Modern Meadow can then further process to create a bio-fabricated animal-free hide. (You can read more on this here)
For founder Andras Forgacs, bio-fabrication of leather (and eventual bio-fabrication of animal products for food consumption) is the way to go to help address key sustainability concerns of our current land-animals breeding trend, which has extraordinary demands on our land and water resources, and contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.
And while not everybody might be happy to get their teeth into a lab-produced steak, he reckons that lab-produced leather should be a lot more palatable to people and therefore easier to commercialise.
Together with many, I too would argue that to limit carbon emissions, deforestation, and intensive resource use - not to mention the risk of those diseases associated with meat consumption - abstinence (or at the very least cutting down) might be the best solution, rather than switching to what would be a very unknown meat grown in a Petri-dish. However, as far as bio-fabricated leather goes, if it means that no animal needs to be killed for it while at the same time offering considerable environmental savings, then I'd be certainly curious to see the knock-on effects associated with its use.
In the video below, Modern Meadow's founder Andras Forgacs extols the virtues of bio-fabrication of leather and other products: