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After Memphis Meats recently closed the largest funding moment in the history of the cultured meat industry, we’re now one step closer to a sustainable food industry. It’s exciting to see how clean meat companies like Memphis Meats are focused on making a positive change. It’s also great to see backing from some of the world’s top investors, meat industry leaders and groups.
I was 17 when I first started working in a theater in Amsterdam, Holland. For the first time I served food to large groups of people. It was a walking dinner for invitees of the piece that premiered that evening. I remember the layout of the dishes was absolutely amazing and in collaboration with a local caterer we worked our asses off until midnight to get both the drinks and the food on the right spots.
It was a great experience to be part of this exclusive evening and make people happy with theatre and food. But I also remember the food waste of that night as it was yesterday. At that point, little did I know about food and events and how much you have to throw away afterwards. With every serving that ended up in the trash, my stomach turned around.
However, I was not the only one who was amazed at the dozens of portions that were thrown in the trash before our eyes. I remember my colleague who made an effort to carefully ask the caterer (who was sweating his forehead like crazy) about what was being done with the excess food. Very soon she realized it was in vain, because he gave the clear impression of not wanting to respond. I think his reaction said something about the speed and pressure of the circumstances under which we had to work.
Now, a couple of years later, I still haven’t forgotten how naïve I was at that point. That moment triggered me so much, that I started to use lots of my spare time hours learning more about food waste, the demand for meat, changing lifestyles and the food industry as a whole.
The demand for meat
Making the food industry more sustainable is a challenge for many years to come. Looking more closely into the ethical and environmental issues of the food industry, one must conclude that aside from the waste of food there are way more and urgent problems to tackle.
One of those issues is our meat consumption and production. Animal rearing can have a big toll on the environment. It’s because you have to feed the animal far more calories than you extract when you eat it. This is especially problematic as we convert large swaths of land from crops that feed people to crops that feed cows and pigs. But clearing forests to make more farmland also contributes to climate change, as do the greenhouse gases produced by all those animals.
This will leave us with a dilemma. This environmental impact will only become larger as the demand for meat is expected to double by 2050. There are not enough resources to feed the planet and the richer and denser the world gets, the bigger the threat to the planet. In the book Should We Eat Meat author Vaclav Smil rightly asks if it’s still OK to eat farmed meat.
Revolutionizing the food system
We can definitely make a decent difference to the world around us by changing our meat eating habits. I’m optimistic that we can make profound reductions on our own meat consumption and do better on diversifying our diets and lifestyles. Although the biggest changes need to happen at the governmental and societal levels, we also have a lot of power as individuals.
Especially when government makes it easier for us to make that happen. In 2017 Portugal passed a law for example, which requires public cafeterias to offer at least one vegan option, applying to prisons, schools, universities, hospitals and other public buildings. It’s a small but great move that hopefully will set an example for many other countries to come.
At the same time, I’m also wondering if we can expect from large groups of people all around the world to drastically reduce their meat consumption. But not only that, considering the urgency of climate change, I’m also wondering if that will be enough.
I carry the idea that the meat industry is long overdue for innovation. If we want to create a secure and sustainable food system, then the meat industry truly needs to be revolutionized too. If you are into this like me, you probably have heard of cultured meat. It’s an alternative way to consume meat, but without the slaughter of an animal.
This is how it works. Also known as clean meat, the technology can grow a small muscle biopsy from an animal and transform it into a burger or steak. From the outside, cultured meat has all the characteristics of farmed meat. The great thing about this way of consuming meat is that even the most passionate meat lovers can continue their meat eating, only now in a more ethical way.
The way these meat lookalikes are brought into the world also makes me think about cloning. It really reminds me of that. If we are now able to clone cells of animals and let them grow under our own conditions, then I’m curious what the next best thing will be – people?
In this video from Wired nicely explains the way clean meat is produced in the lab:
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. – Winston Churchill, 1931Tweet
Multitude of potential
The great thing about cultured meat is that also passionate carnivors can still get to enjoy the same diet they always had, but without the same environmental and animal cost attached. In that way we can really make progress here.
Furthermore, if everything turns out well, cultured meat could be produced with up to 96% lower greenhouse gas emissions than farmed meat, and it could not only use 45% less energy but 99% lower land use and 96% lower water use as well. These are promising stats, but we have to be patient since we are still in the early stages of launch.
But as it turns out to be the promise everyone hopes for, this lab-grown meat would not only make a positive impact on the food system, but also on human health, the environment and animal welfare. Different start-ups are developing similar, but cutting-edge innovation right now and I’m excited to hear more of these developments. It’s a very nice prospect to me if in the next few decades the practice of killing animals for food will largely be a thing of the past.
I decided to have a closer look on this start-up a few years ago. Memphis Meat is one of the many startups that is trying to revolutionize the food system by using this innovative way to produce clean meat. Recently Memphis Meat closed the largest funding moment in the history of the cultured meat industry with investors like Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Richard Branson shares with Forbes, “I am proud to invest once again in Memphis Meats, the world’s leading cell-based meat company. In the next few decades I believe that cell-based meat will become a major part of our global meat supply. I cannot wait for that day!”
Memphis Meats has developed production methods that do not require fetal bovine serum (FBS) to grow their cells. They also do not expect to ever sell products made with FBS. This is critical for all cell-base companies, as FBS is expensive, inconsistent in quality, and derived from animals. Which largely defeats the purpose behind these mission-driven companies.
Ready, set, go!
There’s a lot of debate as to when we can expect to see these products in the market. The company has not yet announced a date for product launch and is working with regulatory agencies to ensure a timely and safe market entry. It’s worth noting the importance of the USDA and FDA agreeing to jointly regulate this industry. These agencies will have a huge influence on when cell-based products can come to market.
But with the ability to raise this kind of capital from partners like Cargill and Tyson, Memphis Meats will likely deliver on that promise sooner than you think. Memphis Meats expects to use the funds to build a pilot production facility, continue to grow its world-class team, and to hit a major milestone of launching products into the market.
“The reality is that conventional production methods for meat can’t keep up with global demand, which is expected to double by 2050. Cell-based meat addresses this issue while offering enormous potential to improve the environment and have a positive impact on food safety and animal welfare. Memphis Meats is on a mission to serve up real meat without the compromise. We are thrilled to partner with this visionary team,” said Priti Youssef Choksi, Partner at Norwest Venture Partners.
First of all, start-ups like Memphis Meats are promising alternatives to farmed meat. If everything turns out well it can truly transform our relationship with meat. I truly recommend Vaclav Smil’s book if you’re interested in more clear-eyed analysis on this topic. In that case you can’t pass this one up. For book reviews head over to this section. At last, find more books that I read on my bookshelf.
Although the author is right about cultured meat only being available for the ones that are able to afford it, I’m optimistic that it will eventually become available to many more people. I’m happy to hear and learn more about cultured meat. What are your thoughts about it? And would you like to eat or buy it yourself? Please use the comment section below!
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All of these pictures belong to Memphis Meats.