BY: DUSTIN BATTY
On March 14, 2017, a startup company called Memphis Meats invited taste-testers to try their chicken tenders and duck à l’orange. Much to the surprised delight of the tasters, the products tasted identical to chicken tenders and duck à l’orange that they had eaten elsewhere. Company CEO Uma Valeti and his team were congratulated for their success.
Though making food that tastes like it should may not seem very impressive, there was good reason for the surprise and delight: the meat that they used did not come from animals. Memphis Meats is one of only a few companies around the world that is attempting to reshape the commercial meat industry by introducing “clean meat,” which is grown synthetically rather than taken from the body of an animal.
Memphis Meats just revealed the newest “clean meats”: synthetically grown chicken and duck.
Although the clean meat industry is in its fledgling years, the technology is advancing quickly. In 2013, the first synthetic meat—a beef burger—was introduced to the world. It cost about $330,000 to make. Only two years later, lead scientist Dr. Mark Post said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the cost had dropped to just $80 per kilogram of beef. Now Memphis Meats has made synthetic poultry for about $9,000 per pound. Though that sounds like a lot, it is a vast improvement over the first clean meat development costs. Post claims that within a decade, synthetic meat will be a “price-competitive alternative” to farmed meat.
There is some concern that consumers will find the idea of eating lab-grown meat “repulsive,” but as Helen Breewood of Post’s team pointed out, “if they consider what goes into producing normal meat in a slaughterhouse, I think they would also find that repulsive.” Once consumers overcome their initial uncertainty, they will find that converting to clean meat is the right thing to do.
Clean meat has many benefits over traditional farmed meat. For example, it is much less likely to be contaminated with bacteria or diseases. It also eliminates the abusive living conditions of factory farmed animals. Since animals aren’t involved in the process at all except for the initial extraction of cells, which leaves the animal alive and well, even vegetarians can eat it.
Clean meat is both ethically and environmentally superior to factory farming.
Perhaps most significantly, clean meat is much more efficient. According to the Memphis Meats website, the “technique [they use] for meat production could require up to 90 per cent less land, water and greenhouse gas emissions than conventional meat production.” Farmed meat is an ineffective process at the best of times. Post said in his interview with ABC that “We lose actually a lot of food by giving it to animals as an intermediate.” Compared to animals, clean meat uses the water and nutrients it is ‘fed’ much more efficiently.
Given enough time and commercial interest, clean meat will become a viable, affordable option. With its huge environmental and ethical benefits, I, for one, am looking forward to it.