Artificial meat: a healthier and more sustainable alternative?

Artificial meat: a healthier and more sustainable alternative?

January 25, 2018

Artificial meat: a healthier and more sustainable alternative?

David Kay, Manager of Communications and Sustainability at Memphis Meat, the company attempting to fill supermarket shelves with environmentally sustainable artificial meat that also pleases the palate.

A start-up to produce meat in a sustainable way: this is the mission of Memphis Meat, a Silicon Valley company set up to experiment producing meat in a lab. David Kay, Manager of Communications and Sustainability of the artificial meat project, described the undertaking at the BCFN Forum.

"Meat is one of the food productions with the greatest environmental impact", reminded the expert. "Grazing animals consume resources that should be devoted to agriculture, farming land and a huge amount of water in particular. Intensive livestock farming produce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change".

The only alternative: giving up meat - since it is possible to substitute most nutritional properties with other protein sources, pulses in the first place. 

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"Meat is a central component of virtually every culture around the world. In fact, global demand for meat is skyrocketing. At Memphis Meats, we are developing a new method for producing meat."

The solution is called tissue culture. "We select the highest quality animals, isolate the muscle cells that are best suited for self-renewal, and can give us the taste, textures and aromas we're looking for." Cultured cells are nourished with the same elements normally found in animal feed, but in their pure form. Two to three weeks are needed to obtain a cut of artificial meat and, according to Memphis Meat's calculations, they greatly reduce its environmental impact: "At scale, we expect our products to require significantly fewer natural resources and to emit fewer greenhouse gas emissions. We also expect our process to provide significant benefits regarding animal welfare"

Among the advantages, there is also the reduced risk of bacterial contamination, since the meat is produced in a sterile environment and does not require antibiotics, which are frequently used in intensive livestock farming.

"Demand for meat is growing globally" commented Kay, reporting the FAO figures that show meat consumption doubling by 2050, as economic and life conditions improve in developing countries. "We expect cell-based meat to not only be more sustainable, but also eventually more affordable than conventionally-produced meat."

In fact, the challenge is also about reducing meat costs for consumers, bearing in mind that consumption will shrink in western countries, as nutrition guidelines recommend having animal proteins no more than three times a week. Key looked for nutritional solutions too: “We are also exploring ways we might improve the nutrient profiles of meat."

Memphis Meat's Manager of Communications and Environmental Sustainability does not offer an estimate of when artificial meat will reach the supermarket shelves, but some articles published in the US press (including the Wall Street Journal, interested in this information in view of a potential stock market quotation) mentioned 2021. For now, some large investors, including the owners of guaranteed the investments needed to accelerate the final tuning for the start-up.

"We can produce the meat that the world loves in a way that preserves both the planet and beloved culinary traditions," Kay concluded.

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