Around the world, our appetites for meat are insatiable. Despite one third of Britons claiming they have either reduced their meat consumption or stopped eating it altogether, global meat consumption is higher than ever. Since the 1960s, the population has more than doubled, and with more mouths to feed as well as more people able to afford meat, its production has skyrocketed; there is almost five times more meat farmed today than there was in the early 1960s.
With rising campaigns like Veganuary, animal rights movements such as PETA and increased alertness about the dire state of our planet, we are more aware than ever before of the benefits of reducing our meat intake and the dangers associated with meat products and farming. Yet evidently, this isn’t enough to slow down our meat production, with many people remaining adamant that they simply cannot live without it.
So how can we give people their meat, while simultaneously halting the detrimental impacts of meat production? In recent years, scientists have come up with a solution to this very dilemma, developing an alternative method of meat production which could shut down abattoirs, close factory farms, and free up acres and acres of precious land. It could provide us with the meat, without the slaughter. And no, slaughter-free meat doesn’t involve some gruesome kind of vivisection either.
Slaughter-free meat, also known as cultured meat, lab-grown meat, and in vitro meat is created using a laboratory technique that could be termed ‘cellular agriculture’. Using shed feathers and other harmless biopsies, slaughter-free meat involves identifying and isolating a few stem cells and growing them in bioreactors using a protein that encourages cell multiplication until they develop into muscle fibres. These muscle fibres are ‘exercised’ through their attachment to a kind of scaffolding, which allows them to steadily increase in their size and protein content. Eventually, this process results in the production of real meat.
This technique was first successfully used in 2013 by Dutch scientist, Dr Mark Post, who spent $300,000 and two years making a beef patty. By 2018 however, the process had been cut down from two years to just two days. A company called Memphis Meats, co-founded by Dr. Uma Valeti and Nicholas Genovese, has pioneered the research on slaughter-free meat since their launch in 2015. By 2016, Memphis Meats had produced the world’s first cell-based meatball; the following year they created the first cell-based poultry, and towards the end of 2017 they received multiple offers of funding for their research.
Not only does this method of production eliminate the need for creating waste animal parts such as horns or organs, but it also means that we don’t need to waste resources and space on livestock while they grow to slaughter size. This technique is efficient in terms of our increasingly limited resources, eliminating the abominable animal cruelty in the meat production industry, while also still providing meat lovers with the exact same product; slaughter-free meat does not require consumers to compromise on their health, enjoyment, animals or the planet.
At Memphis Meat’s inception in 2015, they were the sole cell-based meat company in the world. Now, four years later, there are roughly forty of them. Memphis Meats are still leading the way in terms of research however, and they have recently stated that though they do not have an official launch date for their products yet, they are “working on an accelerated timeline, ahead of their original estimates”.
This race to get alternatively produced meat products available to consumers is perhaps one of the most important races in science today. Every single day, around 3 billion animals are slaughtered for human consumption, with land animals alone requiring about one-third of the world’s arable land and fresh water. Though this is already extortionate, with our population continuing to soar upwards, meat demand is expected to roughly double by 2050 when up to 10 billion people will populate our planet. A serious reform of the food industry is needed if we are to have enough space on our increasingly crowded planet to continue to feed the population. Memphis Meats might just have the answer.