Animal lovers rejoice! A San Francisco based company, not-so-aptly named Memphis Meats has been making splashes among vegans and meat lovers alike.
Their first big media moment was when they revealed what they called the “world’s first cultured meatball”. This doesn’t mean that the particular meatball in question could read or recite Keats, but rather that it was lab grown from animal cells, or “cultures”.
How the whole thing works is fairly simple in principle:
The team harvests stem cells from cows, pigs, and chickens, turkeys and then they use their cell renewal technology to grow more cells which subsequently form tissue that is biologically identical to meat. What this means is that they have these cells in special closed dishes, where they are fed with a mixture of glucose, vitamins and minerals.
This way, the scientists can control the input to perfection and optimize it’s growing. While this is pretty good news, there’s a catch:
It currently takes around 3 weeks to grow a single meatball, and one pound of this meat would set you back around $18,000.
Sure, that’s a lot of money, but it isn’t really alarming. Most of the super-advanced tech, especially if it’s biological or medical is super expensive in development stages. In fact, there has been a lot of excitement about this method among business and investment circles, and Memphis Meats already received over 2,5 million dollars in funding.
This isn’t a first crack at trying to create animal-less meat, but usually companies focus on creating meat substitutes by using proteins from plants and algae to create it. One such example is Beyond Meat, founded by Bill Gates and two of the four twitter cofounders. If you would peruse their site, you would see that they offer plant-based burger patties that taste like the real thing (or so they claim).
Now, if any of this new tech works out, it is excellent news on multiple levels. The current meat-growing process is very dirty, energy consuming, and not to mention terrible for animals.
The potential impact of this new tech
First of all, we need a lot of land to both store and feed all the cattle and livestock. Livestock is one of the major sources of greenhouse gasses, on par with transportation, electricity production and industry, sitting at around 15% of all the global emissions.
In addition, livestock wastes and pollutes a tremendous amount of water and it’s not very energy efficient. Memphis meats state that for every calorie of beef, 23 calories of animal feed is needed – a ratio they managed to reduce to 1:3, so far.
Another important factor are health risks and benefits. Current meat is unfortunately not completely clean. There can often be traces of antibiotics and various pathogens such as salmonella and Escherichia Coli in meats. Another issue, that crops us far more often that we would ever be comfortable with, are traces of fecal meter found in meat – yeah, that’s poo.
Besides eliminating all these nasty side effects of standard meat-production, there are some additional health benefits to this new technology, too:
The scientists can directly control how much fat their meat has, and what kind of fat it is. They can eliminate the kind that is bad for us, and leave only the healthy (and tasty) stuff.
Lastly, this method is obviously infinitely better for animals. Even though large companies have gone under a lot of flak for their past inhumane treatment of farm animals and tried to rectify it for the most part, the fact of the matter is that there was no way around killing an animal for food. Now there is.
The people behind Memphis Meats and crowdfunding campaign
The whole thing sounds like out of science fiction, but what is reassuring is that the company seems to be in pretty good hands:
The founders, Uma Valeti, Nicholas Genovese, and Will Clem are all extremely accomplished scientists and doctors. They got the funding, the experience, and it seems that they have an appropriate mindset for this endeavor.
Valeti likes to say that the cultured meat movement could be considered a second domestication. In prehistoric time, man first tamed wild animals and domesticated them, which was naturally one of the biggest achievements and the beginnings of the first civilizations.
The second domestication means that we would go one step further and domesticate cells themselves. Naturally, this could have almost as big an impact as the first domestication did.
Since they have attracted tons of investors, the money wasn’t so much of a problem to have to resort to a crowdfunding campaign, so, why do it?
Well, the campaign serves more to share awareness about the product and give venue to numerous people that showed desire to support the project. All of the crowdfunding money is to go into spreading the word about it even further, as the Memphis Meat believes that this could be a global revolution, and they need to reach out and educate the whole world, which is certainly not an easy task.
It turns out that it is possible to grow meat on trees.