Thanks to Memphis Meats, slaughtering animals for food might soon become a thing of the past. The company made its global debut on February 4, unveiling the world’s first meatball made from 100 percent lab-grown, cultured beef. In the next three to four years, they hope to offer consumers meat that’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly than traditional farming.
“We love meat. But like most Americans, we don’t love the many negative side effects of conventional meat production: environmental degradation, a slew of health risks, and food products that contain antibiotics, fecal matter, pathogens, and other contaminants,” the company’s website states.
“Our concept is simple. Instead of farming animals to obtain their meat, why not farm the meat directly? To that end, we’re combining decades of experience in both the culinary and scientific fields to farm real meat cells – without the animals – in a process that is healthier, safer, and more sustainable than conventional animal agriculture.”
“This is absolutely the future of meat,” said Uma Valeti, cardiologist and CEO of Memphis Meats. “We plan to do to the meat industry what the car did to the horse and buggy. Cultured meat will completely replace the status quo and make raising animals to eat them simply unthinkable.”
Valeti revealed that his team has been growing small quantities of meat in the lab using meat cells from pigs, cows, and chickens. And they released a video in which they cook their first meatball ever, with the help of a professional chef. “We watched how the meatball reacted in the pan, we heard the sizzle, we smelled the meat and it was exactly how you would expect a meatball to smell,” Valeti said.
“This is the first time a meatball has ever been cooked with beef cells that didn’t require a cow to be slaughtered.”
According to Memphis Meats, their technology produces 90 percent less greenhouse emissions and consumes less nutrients when compared with traditional meat production. Generating one calorie from beef requires 23 calories of feed, but Memphis Meats claim they can do it with an input of only three calories. And they do not require any antibiotics or additives whatsoever.
They start by isolating animal cells that have the ability to regenerate, and then provide the cells with oxygen and nutrients like sugars and minerals. The cells are kept in bioreactor tanks, where they grow into skeletal muscle that can be harvested in 9 to 21 days.
The company’s claim that it does not require animal slaughter to make meat is not entirely true, though. They do obtain the initial cells from fetal bovine serum, which is the blood drawn from a fetus’s heart after slaughtering a pregnant cow. But Memphis Meats say they’re working on creating a plant-based alternative to replace the serum in the future. Valeti remains convinced that “in 20 years, a majority of meat sold in stores will be cultured.”
That’s a long time away, but for now, producing cultured meat is unbelievably expensive – it costs a whopping $18,000 to produce one pound of ground beef, which costs only $4 at most grocery stores in the US. But the company hopes that with more funding and mass production, the cost will go down drastically in the future, becoming cheaper than traditional meat. They’ve already received $2 million in their first round of seed funding.
Meanwhile, Valeti and his team are facing stiff competition from other entrepreneurs eyeing the cultured meat market. Google co-founder Sergey Brin, for instance, invested $330,000 to produce the world’s first cultured hamburger. He strongly believes that cultured meat has “the capability to transform how we view our world.”
Meat that’s grown in a Petri dish might sound icky, but perhaps it’s only a matter of time before people get used to it. With the world’s population swelling to around 9 million by the year 2050, slaughtering animals for meat might not be a viable option for much longer.
Photos: Memphis Meats