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Can clean meat really save the planet?

In recent years, the notion of clean meat – otherwise known as cultured, synthetic, lab-grown or in-vitro meat – has become a hot topic in the food industry. After the first clean-meat burger debuted in 2013 at a whopping cost of $300,000, a few other players have entered the field, including Californian-based startup Memphis Meats. We chat with expert Emily Byrd from The Good Food Institute, a US-based non-profit organisation supporting the research, on how this phenomenon has taken the world by storm.

clean meat grill burger
Clean meat is environmentally sustainable

So, what exactly is clean meat and how is it made?

Clean meat refers to meat grown from a small cell sample from an animal. As compared to traditional animal farming, the method of producing clean meat is much more environmentally sustainable. These animal cells can be multiplied over and over again, so we can produce huge quantities of meat without the need to slaughter the animal. What’s more, these cell lines can be “immortalised” – at which point the animals will be removed from the process entirely as direct samples will no longer be required. Clean meat is produced directly from animal cell lines, and therefore it doesn’t require additives to achieve the same flavour as animal meat.

How does it compare to regular meat?

Clean meat is, biologically, real animal meat. Therefore, it will have the same shelf life and nutritional profile of other animal meat. It’ll just be without the E.Coli, salmonella, campylobacter, and faecal matter commonly found in traditional meat production. From a sanitation standpoint, clean meat is fundamentally cleaner. It’s also a nod to clean energy, as this mode of production is exponentially better for the environment as compared to industrial animal agriculture.

Who is clean meat targeted at?

The producers of clean meat aren’t attempting to appeal to the vegetarian or vegan markets. Clean meat is for people who do eat meat and love the taste of it, but who, if given the choice, would prefer meat that’s cleaner, safer and cheaper. Right now, many people eat meat despite how it’s produced. They seldom think about the inhumane conditions of factory farms and slaughterhouses. Once there is an alternative that is healthier and less cruel, people will absolutely switch over.

When would it be available?

The end goal is to produce clean meat more cheaply than even the cheapest conventionally produced chicken. Leading experts, including Dr Mark Post of clean meat startup Mosa Meats, believe that this is achievable within 10 years. That’s if the topic is given adequate support for research and development! Eventually, clean meat will supplant conventional meat wherever meat is sold. Right now, the speed with which clean meat gets to the market is entirely dependent on funding. Once this product hits the market, it will fundamentally transform the meat industry. If you’re interested in food security or humane food production, it doesn’t get more exciting than clean meat!

For more information and updates on the clean meat revolution, visit gfi.org.


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