We Should Embrace the Clean Meat Revolution

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Eve Wetlaufer, Contributing Writer

The average American eats roughly 100 pounds of meat each year. With growing awareness surrounding issues like food safety, environmental impacts and animal welfare concerns, this statistic shows an alarming and unsustainable trend.

For instance, we now know that animal agriculture makes up more than two-third’s of the world’s water supply and at least half of the world’s grains. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, while it takes only 500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beans and lentils. There are countless other gloomy environmental statistics that accompany meat production, involving issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, ocean dead zones, species extinction and more.

What if you could eat those 100 pounds of meat without exacerbating climate change, fear of contamination or disease or the inherent knowledge that the animals you’re eating have suffered? Lab-grown meat, also called in-vitro meat, cultured meat or most recently, “clean meat,” is meat without the animal component. Clean meat is actual meat, but instead of coming from an animal that lived its life on a factory farm, it is grown on cell culture and developed independently from living animals. Then the stem cells are extracted from that tissue and muscle cells are grown into muscle fiber on an artificial diet of glucose, oxygen, vitamins and minerals. Finally, those cells grow into recognizable and edible meat in 14 to 21 days in a bioreactor.

This tissue-engineering technology to grow clean meat is already in the works. One of the many companies already in this budding field is a San Francisco startup called Memphis Meats, which already created a “clean” meatball that consumers have tried and loved. It costs about $18,000 to produce one pound of meatballs, but Memphis Meats has ample funding and the co-founders believe their products will be sold in stores at competitive prices in the next five to 10 years. The technology isn’t completely ready yet, but chief executive and co-founder Uma Valeti said that “in just a few years, we expect to be selling protein-packed pork, beef and chicken that taste identical to conventionally raised meat but cut cleaner, safer and all-around better than meat from animals grown on farms.”

Incentives for this massive change are not only based on environmental issues, public health and animal welfare, but also economic factors. Although clean meat is expensive to produce now, it won’t always be that way — savings from reduced animal farming are dramatic. In more ways than one, there is potential for this technology to completely revolutionize the food system without sacrificing the tastes and textures of meat that Americans love.

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Email Eve Wetlaufer at [email protected]