December 21, 2016   |   Carey Wedler
(ANTIMEDIA) Over the last several years, it has become increasingly apparent that factory farming and the mass slaughter of farm animals for meat is unsustainable for animals, humans, and the planet.
But as consumers begin to question their attachment to traditional meat, at least one company is eager to offer an alternative. Memphis Meats is a San Francisco-based start-up using stem cells to produce meat in a lab — rather than slaughtering animals to obtain it (they say the name comes from their close ties to Memphis and their desire to “merge the innovative spirit of Silicon Valley with the rich food traditions of the American South“).
The company was founded by CEO Uma Valeti, a cardiologist; Nicholas Genovese, a stem cell biologist; and Will Clem, who holds a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering.
According to Memphis Meats, meat has been a “core component of the human experience since the beginning, but the way it is currently produced cannot be sustained, for a number of reasons.”
First, they argue, the earth can’t sustain current rates of meat consumption. They note “[o]ne hamburger requires 660 gallons of water to produce.” In contrast, they “aim to produce burgers that require up to 90% less water (saving the equivalent of 24 showers per burger).”
Fortune further summarized the company’s focus on sustainability:
“It takes 23 calories of feed to produce one calorie of beef; Memphis Meats says it has reduced that ratio to 3 to 1, making it that much more economical and sustainable. The company also says its lab-grown meat consumes 90% less water and land, and 50% less energy.”
Indeed, as Gizmodo has previously explained:
“Animal agriculture is soaking up an enormous portion of our arable land, drinkable water, edible food and combustible fossil fuel resources. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, livestock in the US consume more than 7 times as much grain as the American population—enough grain to feed about 840 million people.”
Memphis Meats also cites the moral issues that come along with the “slaughter of billions of animals each year,” pointing out still other problems with the mass production of meat. “Current production introduces risks of bacterial pathogen contamination, including salmonella, E. coli and more. This is because a stunning amount of meat contains fecal bacteria,” they argue. The presence of bacteria in the nation’s meat supply has been widely reported.
For these reasons, Memphis Meats is working to bring lab-grown meat to mainstream markets. Valeti explained the process of “culturing” meat to Anti-Media:
“We start with animal cells—real meat cells—that have the ability to self-renew. We then feed these cells rich nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and plants (the same way you’d feed grass to a cow), and let them grow into protein-packed meat. Once the meat has achieved the desired tenderness, we harvest it, and it is ready to be cooked. The whole process takes about 2-3 weeks; in contrast, it takes about 23 weeks to raise a cow for slaughter.”
Though developing the meat takes time and resources, Memphis Meats is expanding their horizons. In February, they debuted a beef meatball with the same texture and appearance of meat that was seasoned by a professional chef. As a company spokesperson told Tech Crunch:
“The company will start with ground meats, but formed meats are on the roadmap, and could be chicken breast, steak, and even a whole turkey if the demand is there.”
Memphis Meats recently released footage of a beef fajita they’re currently crafting. In November, they launched an Indiegogo campaign focused on developing turkey to reduce the number of birds killed every Thanksgiving, though they say the campaign has focused more on education and raising awareness than it has on raising money.
Nevertheless, the company has enjoyed support and enthusiasm; they have already raised over $100,000 from individuals who want to support their project through Indiegogo. Silicon Valley has also jumped at the opportunity to invest; according to Tech Crunch, Memphis Meats has already obtained $3 million in seed funding.
Still, the Wall Street Journal notes the meat the company develops is not yet 100% animal-free. Memphis Meats currently requires fetal bovine serum, which comes from unborn calves, to initiate the culturing process. Valeti says in the near future, however, he will be able to replace the serum with a plant-based substance.
Though for many vegans and vegetarians, the thought of eating animal cells whatsoever may prevent them from trying lab-grown meat, Valeti told Anti-Media Memphis Meats is seeking to market their products to “people who love meat, but want to be able to enjoy it without inflicting harm on the planet or its inhabitants.”
If Memphis Meats can appeal to meat eaters, they may have the potential to put a dent in the massive meat industry. They plan to bring their products to market in the next five years and intend to sell them both in grocery stores and at the wholesale level for use in restaurants.
This growing trend indicates not only that competition in the market will likely yield some satisfying selections, but that consumers are eager for solutions to the vast problems of factory farming and are ready to try alternatives to meat.
Similarly, Valeti described the reasons why he and his colleagues Memphis Meats:
“Some care about solving the environmental problems associated with conventional meat production. Some care about animal welfare. Some just think the science behind our process is fascinating and has a tremendous potential for positive social impact. As a cardiologist, I also factor in the potential our products have in terms of public health.”
“For all these reasons, our goal is to provide people with the delicious meat experience that everybody loves, in a way that is better for the planet and its inhabitants.”
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