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. "In many cultures, however, meat is part of traditional cooking, particularly during the main festivities. Why give it up if there is an alternative?".


Tissue cultures in the lab

The solution is called tissue culture. "We select the highest quality animals, isolate the muscle cells that are best suited for laboratory reproduction, and can guarantee good aroma and texture". Texture was the main problem facing researchers, Kay explained: "The texture of a steak is given not only by muscle fibers, but also by the presence of connective tissue. It took some time to get the same result in the laboratory and, at the moment, ground meat - like burgers, for example - is the product whose taste and texture are closest to the meat that comes directly from animals. But sliced meat also has the same taste, according to our tasters, who are all passionate carnivores".

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: "We consume 90% less water, we do not use soil, aside for our plant's surface, and our CO2 emissions are much less than the normal meat production. We could also satisfy vegetarian and vegan people who made their choice for ethical reasons rather than as a matter of taste: we do not need to kill the animal to obtain the culture cells".

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. “Our current production modes are not sustainable. Artificial meat is not only sustainable, but also cheaper”.

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: "The latest research has shown that red meat is carcinogenic, while white meat is healthier. Most experiments were carried out on red muscles, but we started production of chicken and duck meat, as well as beef.

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 Amazon and Virgin, guaranteed the investments needed to accelerate the final tuning for the start-up.

We will produce the meat that most people like in a way that is more sustainable and safe for individuals and for the environment”, Kay concluded.

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