There are billions of people on this planet, and many of us love to eat meat. Can the demand be filled in a sustainable, affordable way? A bunch of entrepreneurs are not only optimistic but are working to make this happen sooner than you may think.
In 2018 alone, the average American will consume more than 220lbs of red meat and poultry, according to a report from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). That’s a lot of protein, and even though there’s been a significant growth in plant-based dieters over the past few years, the environmental impact caused by meat consumption – waste, animal treatment, health issues and even the greenhouse gas effects that are potentially caused by methane gas produced by cows – has given rise to a number of startups looking to fill our voracious demand for meat in better, more affordable and environmentally-friendly ways.
For example, San Francisco-based Memphis Meats is developing cell-based meats in its laboratories without requiring any animals. Israel’s Future Meat Technologies is doing the same by manufacturing fat and muscle cells that is being tested by chefs in Jerusalem. Just Inc, which is also based in San Francisco, has developed its own “plant-based cocktail” serum to grow cell-based products for not only meat but seafood as well. Just Inc. has raised more than $220m in funding to date.
All of these companies use proprietary processes to harvest cells from animals and grow them in a lab. Bloomberg reports that food giants such as Tyson Foods and Cargill as well as billionaires Bill Gates and Richard Branson are among the investors in these technologies.
But don’t worry if you’re not a meat lover. Startups such as Jet Eat, which is also based in Israel, are working on food products grown in labs that are plant based and replicate meats using natural ingredients while still maintaining flavor, consistency and the “overall sensory experience”, according to a report on NoCamels. Jet Eat, which launched in early 2018 and is seeking seed funding, aims to 3D-print their lab-grown products by 2020.
As you can imagine, there are plenty of hurdles facing the industry. Educating the public is a big one. Another contentious issue is the labelling of the products. Meat industry trade groups, such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, have been pressing the USDA to more strictly regulate alternative meats, citing “egregiously labeled imitation products”, writes Adrienne Rose Bitar on Wired. Recently both the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they will begin jointly regulating the new “cell-based meat” category.
Traditional meat producers are also wary of the new upstarts. But that hasn’t stopped some of them from reaching out and trying to find ways to collaborate because a growing number of consumers are demanding more environmentally-friendly products. The companies making meat in the lab are certainly open to partnership. “No one knows more about how to mass produce meat than the meat-industry companies,” Bruce Friedrich, executive director of the Good Food Institute, which lobbies for the industry that includes cultured-meat companies, said in another Bloomberg report.
Many of us have concerns about the challenges facing future generations as our global population swells and the earth’s natural resources diminish. The good news is that there are plenty of entrepreneurs around the world – like those producing lab-grown meats - who are working to solve some of these problems and make a few bucks in the process. Nothing wrong with that.