Cultured Meats May be the Key to Pandemic-Proofing Our Future
In 2017, I wrote a column titled “The Coming Meat Wars – 17 Mind-Blowing Predictions.” My second prediction on the list was that cultured meats would be available in grocery stores by 2020.
That’s about to happen. Cultured chicken, in the form of nuggets, will soon be available in a Singapore restaurant after the meat product passed a safety review by the Singapore Food Agency. The U.S. company that’s producing it is called Eat Just, Inc. and their product is called GOOD Meat. Similar pioneering work is being done by this company and others to grow fish, beef, and other meat products.
What is Cultured Meat?
Not to be confused with plant-based meat substitutes, cultured meat is grown from cells obtained via biopsies from live animals. The cells are immersed in plant-based nutrients so they can grow in a fashion similar to the way animals put on weight, but in the confines of a bioreactor.
These cells multiply very quickly until the specimen has grown sufficiently, to a point where they can be harvested, and eventually find a place on our dinner-tables.
I should point out that growing cultured meat is actually faster than growing a cow, pig, or chicken.
Cultured meat production relies on the same science and technology that’s being studied for restoring or replacing human cells or even organs in the world of regenerative medicine.
Benefits of Cultured Meats
Current cultured meat technology and its production processes are still rather pricey and they’re not sufficiently scalable to make a dent in our consumption of traditional, slaughtered meat just yet. But that day may not be as far off as many people think.
A Dutch company, Mosa Meat, led by famed researcher Mark Post and his team of food scientists, is making impressive strides in using a newer, less expensive form of growth factors in making its cultured beef products. The company believes they can achieve “price parity” with traditional meat by 2026.
The potential benefits of cultured meat are huge. First and foremost, there’s the reduction in greenhouse gasses. Enteric fermentation – yes, you know what I mean – within farm animals (especially cows) accounts for 27% of the human-based methane emissions into the environment – a total of 90 million metric tons each year. Also, most industrial-sized cattle farmland can be converted to crops.
Meat cells, grown in this fashion, are essentially purified to deliver a healthier meat product with fewer of the additives or residual steroids and hormones found in slaughterhouse animals. And if the squalor of an animal’s life on the farm, or the thought of killing animals for food is a concern, those elements are, for the most part, eliminated as well.
Cultured Meat as a Pandemic Preventer
So far, most industry observers aren’t picking up on one additional benefit that really jumped out at me recently. As we search for ways to pandemic-proof our world, we need to clean up the world’s meat supply.
Nipah, HIV/AIDS, SARS, MERS, Ebola, Zika, and now COVID-19 … it’s very likely that each of these was caused initially by animal-to-human contact and ingestion. These situations are often traced to bats, but also to other animals. Pigs or camels can also serve as a middle mammal in the transference to humans. We can only hope that those people who choose to eat these exotic meat products will be just as eager to “experiment” with cultured meat.
With regard to controlling our exposure to threats from the meat supply, we have four basic options:
- Prohibit the sale of raw meat that hasn’t been irradiated, cleansed with UV lighting, or undergone similar measures.
- Transition to cultured meats.
- Transition to plant-based meat substitutes.
- Stop eating meat altogether.
Cultured Meat is Here to Stay
It’s just in its infancy now, but I predict that cultured meat will become a dynamic new
industry over the coming decade. Just ask Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Tyson
Foods, who are investors in the cultured meat company Memphis Meats, which seems
to prefer the term, “cell-based meat” which it “harvests from cells instead of animals.”
Another positive sign that the cultured meat industry is in it for the long haul is the
formation last year of their Washington, DC-based lobbying group, the Alliance for Meat,
Poultry, and Seafood Innovation. Their advocates will spend time dealing with federal
regulators – especially the FDA and the USDA who oversee the cultured meat process
and the finished product side of things respectively. Presumably, these lobbyists will
also pitch the pandemic prevention angle.
Similar Future Innovations
It’ll be interesting to see how many of my other similar 2017 predictions will come true.
- The same process for growing meats will be used to grow ‘mother’s milk’ for children and ‘human blood’ to give us an inexhaustible supply of clean blood.
- Cultured blood will cause today’s blood bank industry to disappear. Cultured baby’s blood, or ‘young blood’ with its anti-aging properties, will pave the way for a variety of “cultured” anti-aging products.
- Early uses of these cultured product-technologies will be to grow non-edible materials, like leathers, for the creation of designer purses, belts, gloves, and other accessories.
- Rather than competing head to head with the existing industry, there is a golden opportunity to open up new markets with unusual meats like wombat meat, penguin meat, or bumblebee meat.
- Over time we will even develop cultured meats from extinct animal species like saber tooth tigers, woolly mammoths, and dodo birds. There will be a certain mystique to eating the meat of animals that no longer exist.
- Before long we will see cultured hair cells to regrow our hair and cultured skin cells to remove our wrinkles. The fountain of youth will be springing to life in a way we never anticipated.
I’m scanning the media every day to find good news to report on these fronts as well!
For most people the answer centers around two key questions. How does it taste, and how much does it cost?
Will there be cultured meats in your future?