Lab-grown, cultured, or in-vitro meat is one of the hottest areas of investment and technology advancement in the world.
It’s also getting closer to your dinner plate than you might have realised. While you’re unlikely to sizzle up a steak from a lab tomorrow, it’s a concept that is now most certainly on the horizon.
The idea to create ‘clean meat’ is not actually one from recent times. Surprisingly, it dates at least as far back as Winston Churchill, who, in an article about the future, told the “The Strand Magazine” in December of 1931:
“We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”
While advancements have taken place in the 86 years since Churchill’s vision was published, the most significant moves in this field are now on the table, so to speak.
And it’s a red way to go green, with production of in-vitro meat looking like a winner for the environment as well.
Analysis by scientists from Oxford University and the University of Amsterdam indicates that lab-grown meat products versus traditional protein sources emits up to 96 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions, use 96 per cent less water and consume 45 per cent less energy.
In-Vitro Meat Gets Some Powerful Backing
When some of the world’s richest men invest in any start-up, people stop and notice. When it’s a startup focused on producing protein without slaughtering animals, that tends to generate even more interest.
Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and agricultural company Cargill recently poured 14.4 million USD into Memphis Meats, a Silicon Valley startup that’s already produced the world’s first chicken and duck, grown from the animals cells rather than slaughtering the animals themselves. The funding round, which was completed in August, will be used to try and reduce the current costs.
450 grams of ground beef, grown in what Memphis Meats calls a ‘meat-brewery’, cost as much as 15,000 USD, but costs are falling fast.
Memphis Meats’ goal is to be available on the market in five years, matching the price of higher-end steaks.
And the Vegan Option?
Other companies are seeking plant-based alternatives. Two US-based companies, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, are both placing their bets on meats derived from plant matter.
Beyond Meat launched their ‘Beyond Burger’ at Whole Foods in 2016, made entirely of plants, and sold out within an hour. The company partnered recently with a major food distributor in North America to sell the burger in 3,500 locations.
Impossible Foods has raised a total of 257 million USD (218 million EUR) in investment for their plant-based burgers from notable backers, again including Bill Gates. Their main product is a burger patty that cooks, smells, tastes, and even ‘bleeds’ like real meat, but is actually a soybean-based product. The company makes use of an iron-containing molecule, called heme, which gives meat its flavour, which is naturally occurring in all plants and animals.
And it’s not just the US that is joining the lab-grown meat movement. Earlier this month, it was announced that China had signed a 300 million USD (254 million EUR) trade agreement with Israel, focused on importing lab-grown meats from three companies: SuperMeat, Future Meat Technologies, and Meat the Future.
While lab-grown burgers and meatballs sound like a good way to help supply the world’s growing demand for meat, cut down on resource-intensive factory farming and be gentler to the environment, just one question remains. Even if the price does become affordable, will people actually eat it?