Memphis Meats has made history three times since it was founded in the US in 2016. They’re the first to grow edible beef, chicken and duck directly from animal cells, without the need to raise and slaughter animals.
In January 2016, it debuted its beef meatball, and in March 2017, Memphis Meats held a tasting of cultured duck and cultured chicken.
While lab-grown meat, also known as in-vitro meat, has been around since 2013 (see scientist Mark Post’s $330 000 burger), Memphis Meats is a massive step toward creating lab-grown meat products that could very soon end up on our shelves.
Founded by cardiologist Uma Valeti, the start-up is backed by some major players, including Bill Gates, Richard Branson and food industry giant Cargill.
“We’re going to bring meat to the plate in a more sustainable, affordable and delicious way,” explained Valeti.
Even though it’s a long time in the making, there’s still a shock factor when it comes to the thought of a petri dish burger.
And while researchers work to get the science right, we’re still coming to grips with the aesthetic.
But the truth is that our meat-straight-from-the-cow obsession is not sustainable.
Agriculture is harmful to the environment and often times inhumane. Lab-grown alternatives are starting to look not only attractive given its context, but also necessary.
Meat production today uses one third of Earth's fresh water and land surface and generates nearly one fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s projected to grow by nearly 70 per cent by the year 2050.
“The world loves to eat meat, and it is core to many of our cultures and traditions. Meat demand is growing rapidly around the world. We want the world to keep eating what it loves. However, the way conventional meat is produced today creates challenges for the environment, animal welfare and human health,” said Valeti.
“These are problems that everyone wants to solve, and we can solve them by bringing this incredible group of partners under one tent. This group will help us accelerate our progress significantly.”
Valeti’s own aversion to conventional meat began when he was a boy growing up in Vijayawada, India.
While attending a birthday party, he walked around to the back of the home and found that animal after animal was being slaughtered to keep the festivities going. Speaking to Inc magazine, he said it just didn’t make sense.
"I loved eating meat, but I didn't like the way it was being produced," he was quoted as saying. "I thought, there has to be a better way."
It starts by finding high quality cells in terms of nutrition, protein content, fat content, taste and texture. Once those cells are harvested, there’s an individual cultivation process for each type of meat.
But what sets Memphis Meats apart from the rest is their kill-free method of “feeding” the cells in-vitro. Other scientists have used bovine serum, which is expensive and is extracted from slaughtered animals.
Now, the goal is to find processes that can scale up affordably.