Meat 100% created by humans and technology will one day be on our plates. A science fiction story? Don’t be so sure. American start-ups have launched serious efforts in that direction. They’re hoping to revolutionize meat consumption by offering alternatives based on cultivating animal cells in the laboratory.
By Alexandra Bachot
The latest project is based in Israel, at Aleph Farms, and is called SuperMeat. The company’s aim can be summarized in one sentence: Produce chicken meat from cells taken “painlessly.”
On its website, SuperMeat explains its procedure using the slogan: “Same meat, different way.” Once the cells have been taken, they are reproduced in a lab with the aid of 3-D technology.
Before SuperMeat, the “Frankenburger” had the scientific community’s attention. A pioneer in the domain of synthetic food, the first “in vitro” burger was grown from cow stem cells. Since then several start-ups have put on their thinking caps, notably Future Meat Technologies, who guarantee that they can produce non-genetically modified muscle and fat.
In San Francisco, Memphis Meats grows beef, chicken and even camel in a lab, using a technique close to that of SuperMeat. The advantage: their production method uses only about 10% of the water necessary for classic animal agriculture.
Basically, these new start-ups have as their goal to make meat production sustainable, capitalizing on environmental concerns. They are working to answer what many see as an inevitable future food crisis by limiting the number of animals we raise.
These companies also argue that their methods would decrease greenhouse gas emissions while using fewer natural resources.
Far from being impractical, synthetic food technologies are attracting more and more famous investors. Memphis Meats convinced Bill Gates, Richard Branson and the late GE boss Jack Welch to invest in their enterprise. The agri-food industry, wanting to invest in innovation, has also contributed. Such is the case for the American meat giant Tyson Foods, which owns part of Future Meat Technologies and Memphis Meats.
The big problem now is that growing meat in a lab is very expensive. No actual product is for sale. Nonetheless, some experts see synthetic meat production becoming commercially viable within the next five years.