Lab Grown Meat Moves Toward Commercialization

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Lab Grown Meat Moves Toward Commercialization

In 2013, the world’s first burger from a lab was cooked in butter and eaten. This project funded by Google cofounder Sergey Brin, was the earliest documented use of a technique called “cellular agriculture” to make edible meat products from scratch with no dead animals.  Cellular agriculture, whose products are known as cultured or lab-grown meat, builds up muscle tissue from cells taken from an animal. These cells are nurtured on a scaffold in a bioreactor and fed with a special nutrient broth.

Today, startups around the world are racing to produce lab-grown meat that tastes as good as the traditional kind and costs about as much.  As of early 2019, none of the lab-grown-meat startups has announced a launch date for its first commercial product, but that’s likely to happen as early as year-end 2019.   And, when it does, the lab-grown approach could turn the traditional meat industry upside-down.

As explained in the July 2008 issue of Trends, if the world’s population and affluence remained at year-2000 levels, this technology would be hard to justify, except to animal rights advocates.  However, livestock raised for food already contribute about 15% of the world’s global greenhouse-gas emissions; a major concern for many.  Similarly, a quarter of the planet’s ice-free land is already used to graze those animals and a third of all cropland is used to grow food for them.  Looking ahead, growing populations and rising affluence will make the impact on the system much worse.  For instance, it’s estimated that with the population rising to 10 billion, humans will eat 70% more meat by 2050 than in 2019.  And greenhouse gas production arising from food production will increase by as much as 92%.

While there is a tendency among academics to exaggerate such threats, we shouldn’t totally ignore their warning, especially when it comes to their impact on consumer attitudes.  For instance, in January 2019, a commission of 37 scientists reported in The Lancet that meat’s damaging effects not only on the environment but also on our health make it “a global risk to people and the planet.”  Similarly, in October 2018 a study in Nature found that we will need to change our diets significantly, if we’re not to “irreparably wreck our planet’s natural resources.” 

According to a recent article in MIT Technology Review, investors are betting big that this momentum will continue.  Startups such as MosaMeat, Memphis Meats, Supermeat, Just, and Finless Foods have all swept up healthy sums of venture capital. Now, the race now is to be the “first to market” with a palatable product at an acceptable price...

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