Thanks to an unconventional new startup, meat as we know it may one day become a thing of the past. Memphis Meats has successfully grown meat from a test tube using animal cells rather than a once-living source.
“This is absolutely the future of meat,” Memphis Meats CEO Uma Valeti recently argued in a press release. “We plan to do to the meat industry what the car did to the horse and buggy. Cultured meat will completely replace the status quo and make raising animals to eat them simply unthinkable.”
It may, however, take some time before the technique becomes financially practical. Memphis Meats currently must spend about $18,000 in order to produce just one pound of ground beef—a prohibitively expensive price point when compared with conventional production.
Still, the innovative strategy raises the very real possibility of a meat industry that no longer relies so heavily on the widespread cultivation and slaughter of animals.
“We love meat,” explains Memphis Meats’ website. “But like most Americans, we don’t love the many negative side effects of conventional meat production: environmental degradation, a slew of health risks, and food products that contain antibiotics, fecal matter, pathogens, and other contaminants.”
Per the Daily Mail, the company plans on releasing a range of technologically produced gourmet meats including hot dogs, sausages, burgers and meatballs. The market and need for such a line may well be growing. As The Wall Street Journal notes upon citing figures from the United Nations, approximately one-third of the world’s grains are consumed by animals raised for slaughter.
“Our concept is simple,” the site adds. “Instead of farming animals to obtain their meat, why not farm the meat directly? To that end, we’re combining decades of experience in both the culinary and scientific fields to farm real meat cells—without the animals—in a process that is healthier, safer, and more sustainable than conventional animal agriculture.”
To that end, Memphis Meats has announced the successful production of a cultured meatball.
“We watched how the meatball reacted in the pan, we heard the sizzle, we smelled the meat and it was exactly how you would expect a meatball to smell,” Valeti explained in a new company video. “This is the first time a meatball has ever been cooked with beef cells that didn’t require a cow to be slaughtered.”
Once the process becomes more economical, there’s little doubt it would be more environmentally friendly.
“The meat industry knows their products aren’t sustainable,” Valeti told The Wall Street Journal. We believe that in 20 years, a majority of meat sold in stores will be cultured.”
So how does the process work? At present, isolated cow and pig cells are given oxygen and nutrients and then allowed to develop into muscle inside bioreactor tanks. Between nine and 21 days later, the tissue can then be harvested.
Rather than using the meat of once living animals, the process begins with fetal serum derived from an unborn animal’s blood. That serum could eventually be replaced by a plant-based alternative, according to Memphis Meats.
Only time will tell how successful such products are once they’re made available to consumers. The next step involves review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and then the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service will determine how the products should be regulated.
Companies like Memphis Meats will likely have some competition, as well. Already, Dutch scientist Mark Post has helped develop a process by which hamburger meat may be produced from stem cells obtained from cows via mere biopsies. Mosa Meats anticipates bringing the product to market within the next four to five years.