Imagine, a steak dinner which is not ground from slaughtered animals coming to your dinner plate. Perhaps it can probably be advocated by animal rights groups since it is environmentally friendly and does not include killing animals. Perhaps you can have dinner guilt free.
This can be a reality soon if you are to believe the startup founders at Silicon Valley that are planning to industrialize lab grown meat.
Already, petri dish proteins have slowly become realistic alternatives to meat. Small startup companies have realized its potential by growing meat in labs to mimic the taste, texture, looks, and smell of real meat.
The first prototype products have already started to interest consumers; however, it still requires significant investment from companies and has a long way to go.
Scientists first began working with in vitro proteins from animal cells in both Petri dishes and bioreactors, about a decade ago. The technology was originally designed to be used for astronauts to take synthetic food on long space missions.
However, looking at the vast consumer base, they planned to enter into retail.
In 2000, the first edible in vitro muscle protein was created from a goldfish by the NSR/Touro Applied BioScience Research Consortium. This was done by creating fish fillets outside fish.
Soon after, scientists realized the potential for the bigger market and began developing the idea.
WHY IT’S GOOD FOR YOU
A large contributing factor to the movement has been the impact of red meat on health and environment.
UN research suggests that the global livestock industry expels 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps more than what is produced by all of the world’s transportation requirements combined.
Moreover, researchers at Oxford University predict this in-vitro meat could cut these emissions by up to 96%. However retaining the same nutritional value and protein requirement as real meat.
Benefits to environment plus the taste of real meat. That’s a win-win situation for everyone.
HOW EXACTLY IS MEAT IS GROWN IN THE LAB
To make a meat-free beef burger, donor stem cells must be obtained, with a single biopsy from one cow. This can provide enough to produce thousands of synthetic burgers.
The cells are grown for several weeks in ‘culture wells’ or bioreactors, placed in a nutrient-rich medium where they divide and multiply.
Following this, they are then removed, cut open, straightened and squished together to form a thin layer of muscle tissue harvested into ground beef.
Despite the production seeming complex, it remains more economical than traditional farming.
A calorie’s worth of meat requires just three calories’ worth of energy as opposed to the current ratio of 23:1.
THE BIG CONTENDERS
In 2016, Beyond Meat became the first startup to bring a plant-based meat alternative to grocery stores.
Impossible Foods, one of the main contender of in vitro meat production has chosen a different track by approaching restaurants first and then working the retail market later.
The process is not only limited to beef. Memphis Meats, another company looking at alternatives to meat, is currently in the process of growing chicken meat in the lab.
The technology to produce in vitro meat is in place. The biggest obstacles in this process seem to be scale and cost.
Consider this, right now it will cost $1 million to grow a 250g piece of beef. That’s unthinkable.
But, with the ever evolving technology, these seem to be scalable. Even
Even though at the current rate, it will take at least five years of extensive research followed by equally stringent approval process, the possibility of having a lab grown steak is more real.