What’s the first thing you look for when scanning food labels or perusing the menu at a new café?
For a growing number of Australians, it’s a vegan-friendly guarantee.
Despite Australia’s reputation as a country of meat-eaters (with afternoon barbecues deeply woven into our cultural fabric), more and more people are opting to lead a plant-based life.
A recent survey by Roy Morgan Research found that almost 2.1 million of us now choose to eat meat-free and, according to data from Google Trends, Aussies are more interested in learning about vegan principles than they are about the much-hyped keto and paleo diets.
Evidently, what was once a fringe movement has not become a part of the mainstream food scene. With plant-based mince creeping into the meat sections of our grocery stores and more restaurants supplying mock meat in their menus.
So how did we get here? It all started as most PETA campaigns do… with a seemingly gregarious stunt. Back in 2008, the animal rights organisation offered $1 million to the first scientist who could create in vitro chicken – poultry meat created from a few chicken cells, rather than from the whole bird.
But this proposition wasn’t a mere media stunt. Instead it was foreshadowing the massive shift that is happening in our food system.
The ability to ‘grow’ lab meat without the inherent problem of having an animal attached to it would revolutionize our food system, laying the groundwork for one of the most profound shifts humanity has seen. If successful, companies producing clean meat stand to be as profitable as the companies leading the near-trillion dollar global meat industry. Quite likely, even more so.
But how is it that industrial farmers may soon be replaced by animal rights organisations, ethical scientists and vegan entrepreneurs?
The first step is understanding this 180-degree shift is to look at our current food system. Biggest, faster, cheaper has been the mantra of the last half century. Although factory farming is indeed bigger and faster, it isn’t better. From the mistreatment of animals and misuse of natural resources, to our predilection towards a diet filled with processed meat, sugar and fat. Obesity rates are continuing to climb, with topping 60 percent in Australia, as well as the rates of Type 2 diabetes, cancer, stroke, heart disease and scores of other life-limiting illnesses. We’re erasing ourselves from history, one Happy Meal at a time.
So What Exactly is Lab Grown Meat?
Lab-grown meat has been called clean meat, in vitro, test-tube meat, cultured meat and even Frankenmeat. While the science is an innovation, the process itself is a lot less exciting as it sounds. Unless you find watching kombucha brew exceptionally fascinating. The cells are cultured from an animal, without harm, and allowed to grow. Certain cells are more prone to do that than others. “We start with high-quality animal cells. We feed those cells nutrients (water, sugars, proteins, fats, vitamins, and nutrients — the same macronutrients that cows obtain when they eat grass),” says David Kay, head of mission and business analyst for Bay Area clean meat producer Memphis Meats. Once the cells are grown sufficiently, they are harvested and are ready to be cooked and prepared just like conventionally produced meat. Essentially, we are recreating a process that naturally occurs inside an animal’s body, but doing it outside of that animal’s body. This is further explained in the video below.
By removing the messiness of breeding, raising, killing and processing animals, lab meat is also removing the most serious risks associated with meat. In today’s meat market, we aren’t just concerned with good old high cholesterol and heart disease of last century; there are also issues of foodborne illness, antibiotic resistance and swine flu, just to name a few. Working with meat at the cellular level also delivers to ability to include ‘additional functionality’ as scientists can also grow meat that’s lower in saturated fat or contains more iron.
This process can be described as the advent of the car to explain lab meat’s potential. It’s the ‘Model T’ and factory farming is the horse and carriage. How many people do you see driving around town in those these days?
From an animal rights perspective, there is no downside to clean meat. While innovation is food-tech with Impossible Foods And Beyond Meat leading the way with their meaty plant burgers. Clean meat is a step closer to satisfying everyone. It’s the DNA of a steak without the DOA of a cow.
The plant-based protein market surpassed $5 billion in sales in 2016, and most people buying these products aren’t vegan. They are the flexitarians and veg curious. Those who are interested in a sustainable future, but can’t fully give up meat.
The two big questions a lot of companies are focused on: How do we feed 9 billion people by 2050, and how do we address climate change?
Food tech and clean meat are the answer to both of these questions.