IT MIGHT sound like science fiction but the day when we can tuck into a juicy burger without killing any cows or chow down on a chicken nugget without harming a chicken is within reach.
“Cellular agriculture” is a growing industry garnering millions of dollars from investors looking ahead to an abattoir-free future.
Taking cultured meat from the lab to the dinner table, these “clean meat” farmers are sidestepping the considerable environmental consequences of meat production, said to be responsible for 18 per cent of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.
Significantly, they are also overcoming the ethical hurdles about harming animals that lead many people to become vegetarian.
Instead of harvesting entire animals for meat, they take just a small, pin head-sized biopsy from an animal and then grow it in a lab.
The biopsy is put in a mineral bath that contains the same nutrients an animal would consume such as water, vitamins, minerals and amino acids and structured around collagen scaffolds.
A piece of meat that requires an estimated 80 per cent less land and water to produce and emits fewer greenhouse gases.
In 2013, for the princely sum of $325,000, Mosameat produced the world’s first lab-grown burger created from 10,000 small strips of muscles that were individually grown at Maastricht University.
Memphis Meats, which counts Sir Richard Branson and Bill Gates among its investors, produced the world’s first ‘clean’ meatball in 2016 and followed it up with clean poultry in 2017.
San Francisco start-up JUST used the feather from a chicken named Ian, gave it nutrients to help the cells grow, and ended up with a cultured piece of chicken.
But all this clean meat comes with a hefty price tag.
About half a kilo of Memphis Meats reportedly costs in the order of US$2400. It will take some doing, namely, reducing the medium needed to culture cells, but the company hopes to reduce that down to under $5.
Clean meat, also known as cultured meat, is only expected to be available on a small scale in limited markets initially but mass-produced versions could be available by 2025.