Tech Trends for 2017: Lab-grown food
With the current meat industry beginning to pose serious moral questions, 2017 could see a fundamental change in how we get our food
Did you hear the news about the meat-eating vegan? Well in 2017 you might, because lab-grown food, and lab-grown meat in particular, is on the rise.
Between a combination of cellular agriculture and bio-tech, scientists have developed ‘cultured meat’; where meat is grown in a laboratory.
With beef production driving 25% of global land use and forestry emissions – according to the WWF – cultured meat seeks to satisfy world food shortages while easing the burden on our planet’s resources and ending the needless slaughter of animals for our dinner.
With its production process extracting cells from living animals, cultured meat (also called in-vitro meat) will no doubt interest vegetarians and vegans, and has sparked debate among Jewish and Muslim communities as to whether cultured meat can be considered kosher and halal respectively.
In recent years, the average price of synthetic meat has plunged significantly. While the initial cost of one patty was $325,000, it's predicted that the price of one kilo of cultured beef could drop to $70 or $11 per patty – so don’t be surprised if you see it on supermarket shelves near you.
Memphis Meats, a California-based start-up, produced the world’s “first ever cultured meatball” (pictured) earlier this year and has raised over $2.5m in seed funding since launching.
Following on from last year’s 3-D printing 2.0 prediction, 3-D printed food is also experiencing increased popularity. Working similarly to a regular 3D printer, the machine deploys edible ingredients squeezed out of stainless steel capsules. Pizza, pasta and even Oreo cookies have all been successfully printed using this technology.
How it works
Lab-grown meat is created by harvesting stem cells from living animals in an apparently painless process. This tissue is made up of fat cells and muscle cells which then separate – with the muscle cells then dissected while the fat cells are discarded.
These muscle cells are then ‘cultured’; a process whereby proteins are applied that promote tissue growth. These muscle cells then form together and grow into a strand of muscle tissue. One muscle cell has the potential to turn into one trillion tissue strands; a lot of lab burgers!
In terms of appearance and texture, cultured meat is paler in colour and has a blander taste in comparison to real meat, but with tremendous strides already being made the taste and appearance could soon become very similar to the real deal.
Uma Valeti, CEO and co-founder of Memphis Meats, commented:
“There are significant problems with the way meat is currently produced – environmental degradation, the slaughtering of billions of animals annually and health issues from bacterial contamination.
“By growing meat from animal cells we believe we can significantly improve upon all of these issues. We expect our products to require up to 90% less environmental inputs, to have a much lower risk of bacterial contamination, and to entirely detach animal slaughter from the meat production process.
“Our goal, like many others in the space, is to make a more sustainable food system. Memphis Meats wants to innovate the meat people love. We want to give people the ability to continue to eat the meat they’ve always loved, without the negative impacts on the planet, the body and the animals.”