Let’s Redefine Meat
No, I’m serious.
I’ll be honest. Similar to many of you, I love my meat. Doesn’t matter if it’s beef in my burger or bacon in my breakfast, I assure you, meat is in eyes, delicious. But once you consider the effects of meat on a global, and societal scale, even I’m starting to think twice before chomping on the delicacy.
🐄 The Beefy Example
Let’s use beef as an example. It takes 7000 litres of water to produce 1 pound of beef.
To put into perspective how much water that is, 7000 litres is equivalent to 196 showers. That’s enough for one person to shower with for 28 weeks. 🤯
That’s not all. Current meat consumption is a problem and here’s why.
As a human collective, the meat that we eat accounts for 14.5% of global emissions, 26% of global land consumption, and 33% of our croplands being used for livestock. To make things even worse, 70% of antibiotics are also only sold to animals.
With our growing population sizes, we’ll need to produce more food in the next 50 years, than in the past 10,000 years combined.
As the average GDP of countries increase and citizens get wealthier, more and more people want access to the precious commodity.
If we continue at this rate, we’ll wreak havoc on Earth as we know it today.
We need radical change and find new ways to live our lives while being more environmentally conscious.
❓ Our Current Status Quo
Before we change the world, we need to understand the status quo.
Here’s how we currently produce meat so that we can have steaks and hamburgers on our plates at home:
- Depending on how animals are raised, they’re either
a) raised on a vast area of enclosed land, and are free to eat as they please, with shelter and clean water (organic), or what’s more likely
b) trapped in an indoor facility and fed different crops along with tons of antibiotics (traditional livestock farming)
- When they’re big enough, or old enough, animals are then brought to slaughterhouses, where people proceed to knock them out, unconscious, by stunning them or killing them with a captive bolt pistol. Diseased animals are separated, treated or humanely euthanased.
- Afterwards, depending on jurisdiction and country regulations, animals are examined and then prepared and separated by humans into different parts, ready to be shipped off to your local grocery store.
- At different parts of the logistical journey, particularly at the final touchpoints like supermarkets, or your homes, meat can go bad, and get wasted. Grocery stores and suppliers in the U.S. waste 20% of their overall meat (and dairy) products after going bad or due to other factors. More meat proceeds to go bad if not handled properly after purchased by the consumer.
- Lastly, we prepare it at home and in restaurants. We make, we serve, we eat.
Take that in. All of that for meat. Pair that with increasing demand, negative impacts on our world, and we have a recipe for disaster.
This is where alternative solutions come in.
🧫Introducing Cellular Agriculture and Cultured Meats
Cellular Agriculture has been receiving a lot more attention and funding in recent years and for good reason.
Cellular agriculture is the production of animal and agricultural products from cell cultures.
Under that umbrella, companies, researchers and scientists are working away to create cultured meat. By definition, this is the process of making meat muscle tissue from cells (usually/most likely to be stem cells), and taking these tissues to turn into pieces of meat.
The end vision for cultured meat and cellular agriculture is:
- to eat as much meat as you want without hurting animals and
- to avoid the negative impacts tied to normal meat consumption.
At the moment, there are two types of final products with this new technology.
We have acellular products that consist of organic molecules like proteins and fats, without containing any cellular/living material in the final product. The other type falls under the term cellular products: which is made up of one-living or currently living cells.
To make acellular products, we can take microbes like yeast and bacteria and manipulate them in different ways to create products like milk (made from yeast). In the milk example, we alter yeast by inserting into them the gene carrying the blueprints for a milk protein called casein. All cells read the same genetic code, so yeast would then carry recombinant DNA allow it to make casein exactly identical to the ones made by cows in milk.
To make cellular products, we directly harvest cells from living animals and grow the meat through a process called tissue engineering. This is where we place the cell on a scaffold to grow with serum, which is food for the cells to feed on. Through this new technology, it can also be used clinically for organ transplantation or burn victims, but there are different considerations for different applications.
While producing leather or organs through tissue engineering would only need to focus on the function, making food with this form of engineering is a completely different story. Nutritional value, mouthfeel, or taste all need to be considered when we’re making meat.
None of these two types of final products (acellular and cellular products) involved the killing of any animal so that’s a great place to start. The resulting products from the cell culture, do end up being the same as those from the animal, with the only difference being how it’s put together.
🔑 Recent Highlights and Current Developments
Right now, you might be thinking that this sounds great, and are curious about some of the progress that’s been made.
Here are some key highlights:
- 2003: frog steak that was a few centimetres wide was grown from frog stem cells was cooked and eaten.
- 2005: the first peer-reviewed journal article was published on laboratory-grown meat.
- 2007: the Dutch Government sponsored a 4$ million project to cultivate pork from stem cells.
- 2008: an international academic conference was hosted and focused on the production of cultured meat, centred around commercial opportunities.
- 2012: around 30 labs were working on cultured meat research on Earth (life and progress on other planets unconfirmed).
- 2013: on August 5th, the first lab-grown burger was cooked and eaten.
With all of the progress that the scientific community has made, there’s still a long way to go.
For example, the development of the 2013 burger was unsustainable, and there was no fat content within the burger.
People are also still trying to figure out how to stop using animal-derived components, and purely use what they’ve grown.
Roadblocks also surround the gel in which we store the cells, protein quality, myoglobin content and blood in the culture medium.
🔦 Company Spotlight
Some of the current players in the game are crushing it. Here are some of the amazing companies that I’ve come across and are super interesting:
🥓 Memphis Meats
Founded in 2015, Memphis Meats' goal is to “reinvent modern-day agriculture, using a tenth of the water, and 100th of the land.” They currently grow their meat in reactor tanks, using the classic methods of created cultured meats. In 2020, they raised a mind-blowing $161 million Series B Funding Round. Currently, it costs $1000 to produce a pound of poultry, but the costs are drastically decreasing. Reports mention that they’re working on reducing the cost of producing their beef burgers to $5, with an estimated launch date in 2021.
☀ Perfect Day
With a brilliant name and idea, struggling vegan founders Ryan and Perumal, incorporate dairy products in existing food items. As a B2B company, they’ve raised over $23 million dollars in funding to work on their idea.
🌱 Impossible Foods
While this is a plant-based meat substitute, Impossible Foods has already launched a commercially ready product for consumers. In an interview, David Lipman, Chief Scientist at Impossible Foods, talked about their process of initially using soy leghemoglobin (containing heme) and instead transitioning to yeast. The switch enabled them to scale, and they’re currently working on growing from 300,000 pounds of beef to 1 million pounds!
🧠 Advantages, Disadvantages and Challenges
All of the previous issues surrounding water & land consumption, greenhouse gases from livestock, climate change, and antibiotic resistance could all be solved with cellular agriculture and cultured meats.
Disadvantages of the technology will fall upon livestock farmers whose livelihoods depend on the production of meat products. That wouldn’t exactly be fair to them either.
It’s also currently extremely expensive to create cultured meats and similar products. Certain issues also lie in the regulation and naming conventions.
In order for cellular agriculture, and cultured meat to create serious impact, there needs to be mass adoption, which is still a long way away due to the current limitations and challenges.
⏭ What’s Next and Call to Action
There’s so much more work that’s left and you could be the next innovator in the field.
To get started, dive deeper into additional resources surrounding the technologies that are the backbone of cellular agriculture.
Reach out and speak to experts and companies to see how you can get involved.
With all of the recent advancements in the field of cellular agriculture, cultured meats and plant-based alternatives, I’m hopeful.
Until then, I’ll be working on eating less meat, and maybe turning vegan, but I’m not exactly the most excited about that.
Let’s drive the industry forward and allow all fellow meat lovers to indulge without feeling guilty.
Let’s get more funding and people working on this.
Let’s go make it happen.