There are many who enjoy meat but also appreciate the fact that the farming of animals for the meat industry does have a significant environmental impact. There are also concerns over animal welfare associated with industrial farming practises. However, there are hopes the latest technology in the world of food science is on the verge of genuine breakthroughs that could hold the promise of far more sustainable ways to produce meat.
From new, low ecological impact ways of producing animal feed, lab-grown meat and vegetarian facsimiles of meat that genuinely look and taste like the real deal, food science start-ups around the world are staking their futures on the demand for sustainable alternatives to the traditional meat industry. The big boys are also waking up to consumer demand for more sustainable meat choices and are starting to invest in promising food-science start-ups in the sector and even acquire them.
Just a handful of the wave of young companies developing new food technologies for sustainable meat are:
AgriProtein: a British-owned company with operations in South Africa, AgriProtein has recently won an £80 million investment to fund its international expansion ambitions. The company, whose initial research was funded by two grants awarded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, tackles the sustainability problem caused by the resource intense nature of meat and fish farming. It can take as much of 10 kg of protein-rich feed to produce 1 kg of farmed meat or fish, which usually comes in the form of soy or fishmeal. Demand for soy beans is strongly linked to deforestation in the developing world.
Agriprotein’s alternative is vast warehouses full of black soldier flies. Their larvae are harvested from two 20,000-sq-ft factories in South Africa, each of which contains around 8.4 billion flies. The flies are fed on food waste collected from supermarkets and restaurants and their larvae converted into a high protein formulae used in feed for fish, poultry, pigs and even family pets.
Finless Foods: based in Berkeley, California, Finless Foods are working on being able to grow ‘fish’ meat in a laboratory rather than fishing it out of the sea. Memphis Meats from San Francisco are attempting something similar, cultivating chicken breast and meatballs in the lab.
Two more start-ups, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, both also based in California, are taking a different approach by trying to create meat alternatives from plant-based ingredients. Beyond Meat combines pea protein, potato starch, mung bean, beetroot and multiple other ingredients in patties that a reporter for The Times recently confirmed “looks and tastes like meat”. Founder Ethan Brown is even determined to create a vegetarian ‘meat facsimile’ that ‘smells like beef’ when it is cooking. A decade of research and investment of £117 million has been spent in the pursuit of a goal that Brown is convinced his company is close to realising. Impossible Foods has raised even more, attracting $400 million (£300 million) on the promise they will create a ‘veggie burger that bleeds’.
There is of course opposition from the ‘Big Meat’ industry. The United States Cattlemen’s Association is lobbying for a ban on products, even molecularly identical meat cultivated in a lab, being marketed as ‘meat’. However, with growing public awareness of the fact industrial livestock farming accounts for 14% of greenhouse gases globally, not to mention deforestation and animal welfare concerns, we can expect to see further investment in ‘clean meat’ technologies. A burger that doesn’t weigh on the conscience, and tastes great, would be nice.