Clean meat is a revolutionary technology that will in time change the global food system as we know it.
This innovative technology is currently known by many names – cultured meat, synthetic or in vitro meat, cellular agriculture or lab grown meat to name a few. Call it what you like, clean meat refers to meat grown in cell cultures instead of inside animals that will in time change the global food system as we know it.
Samples of animal cells can be replicated outside of the animal, resulting in real, yet ‘clean’, (uncontaminated with disease, animal waste and antibiotics - all commonly present in current meat products) meat. Without the need for the animal, there is no need for factory farms that wreak havoc on our environment or putrid slaughterhouses causing immense suffering to countless animals. Hence the name “clean meat”. Real meat that is cleaner as it is free from pollutants and substantially kinder to our environment.
Clean meat is not a brand new innovation. This technology has been explored and advanced significantly over the last ten to fifteen years. However the idea originated well before then.
In 1931 Winston Churchill first raised the idea saying, “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”
With several science fiction stories and academic papers setting the stage, in 1997 Willem Van Eelen, an 86 year old entrepreneur filed a patent on the idea.
A 1998 U.S. patent filed by Jon F. Vein laid claim to the “production of tissue engineered meat for human consumption, wherein muscle and fat cells would be grown in an integrated fashion to create food products such as beef, poultry and fish.”
By 2005 Van Eelen had initiated a research program into cultured meat funded by the Dutch government agency SenterNovem. In 2008 Dr. Mark Post came on board this project.
In 2008, PETA offered a $1 million prize to the first company to bring lab-grown chicken meat to consumers by 2012.
In November 2009, scientists from the Netherlands research project announced they had managed to grow meat in the laboratory using the cells from a live pig.
In 2010, Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s family foundation reached out to Dr. Mark Post to support his efforts in developing cultured meat. They also encouraged Mark to create a huge media event where the first cultured hamburger would be tasted, supporting the costs of the research and the event.
By 2012, 30 laboratories around the world were conducting cultured meat research.
In 2013, with a little coaxing from Sergy Brin, Dr. Post made headline news around the world as the producer of the world’s first lab-grown burger that was cooked and eaten at a news conference in London. The burger was cooked by chef Richard McGeown of Couch’s Great House Restaurant in Cornwall and tasted by Hanni Ruetzler, a food critic and food researcher at the Future Food Studio in London.
Ruetzler described the experience. “There is really a bite to it, there is quite some flavor with the browning. I know there is no fat in it so I didn’t really know how juicy it would be, but there is quite some intense taste; it’s close to meat, it’s not that juicy, but the consistency is perfect. This is meat to me… It’s really something to bite on and I think the look is quite similar.”
That one television event was all it took to signal in a new age of cultured meat, opening the doors to dozens of new startups.
When Dr. Post presented the first cell cultured beef burger, he proved to the world that the production of cultured meat was a scientific reality. In 2013 when this was first shown to be possible, the cost of that first clean meat burger was approximately $330,000. The challenge then became, not can it be done, but how can it be done in a time and cost effective way?
Already today, in just five short years, companies such as the San Francisco based Memphis Meats can now produce clean meat for around $40 per gram, equating to less than one fiftieth of the cost of that first clean burger. Dr. Post’s own company Mosa Meats is forecasting the sale of clean meat burgers for $10 a patty by 2020.
With such rapid progress already in such a short amount of time, it is likely that within the next decade, given appropriate aid in regards to research and development, clean meat production will be cheaper than conventional meat production.
For the sake of human and planetary health, it is imperative that this technology continue to be supported and advanced. Animal agriculture is not only bad for our health, bad for animals and destructive to our environment, it is also unsustainable. Clean meat is a huge step in the right direction in terms of solving each of these problems.
Animals need not suffer or die for the production of clean meat.
Clean meat can be produced without the massive amount of antibiotics that currently go to farm animals. These antibiotics present in our food then have huge carry on effects on human health.
Scientists from the United Nations claim that animal agriculture is “one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.” Clean meat production will use much less land and make far fewer contributions to climate change than current meat production methods.
Currently around the world, a vast array of scientists, companies, entrepreneurs, lawyers and many others are devoting their time towards revolutionizing the way we produce and consume meat to enable us to move towards clean meat and away from the myriad of problems that we face as a result of current meat production.