“Clean Meat” Soon to be on the Table
By: Axl Kaminski
Is this the answer for environmentally concerned citizens, not yet ready to give up their carnivorous ways for a more eco-friendly, plant-based diet? The term “clean meat” can mean a variety of products which may be synthesized from pea-protein-derived heme (the non-protein component of hemoglobin) or grown from the cultured cells of live animals. Environmentalist and animal welfare groups are touting clean meat as the next great technological innovation, however, consumer bias for conventional meat will be challenging to overcome.
In the U.S. alone, 10 billion land animals are slaughtered each year, and globally 30% of the earth’s surface is devoted to raising livestock. The size and scale of modern factory farming is a far cry from the rural pastoral family farm, but then again, so is meat grown in a Petri dish. The effects of the factory farming system currently in place are felt globally, but the clean meat movement’s epicenter is local, with most of the research undertaken by Silicon Valley-funded scientists. Cost is key in the clean meat industry. Clean meat endeavors are competing with centuries of technological developments that have contributed to the industrialization and mechanization of the modern factory farm.
The challenges are not only monetary for the clean meat industry; the preferences of the American palate also have to be challenged. The idea of meat grown in a lab is not exactly appetizing to most Americans, and will prove to be one of the biggest obstacles to the industry. A 2014 Pew research study confirmed this sentiment, out of 1,000 people asked if they would eat meat “grown in a lab”, 80% responded no. However, this has not stopped billionaires like Bill Gates and Richard Branson from supporting the industry. Demand for meat is steadily rising alongside the global population, all while the finite amount of land suitable for raising animals declines. With an expected population growth of 9 billion by 2050, meeting the population’s demand for meat will require innovation.
A vegetarian diet requires only 35% as much water and 40% as much energy as that of a meat based diet. The problem is that vegetarians only represent a small fraction of the population. Clean meat could help bridge the gap for the environmentally conscientious carnivore. Future clean meat eaters could tout similar number because much of the waste associated with conventionally produced meat is cause by inefficiencies in the factory farming industry. Clean eating has the potential to make a huge difference in the amount of pollution and waste produced by factory farming operations.
Uma Valeti, Co-founder and CEO of Memphis Meats (a leader in the clean meat market), said in an interview with Modernfarmer.com that his company’s methods of producing animal protein would require less than a tenth of the land and water, and half of the energy needed for conventionally produced meat. Although, the cost of producing clean meat is prohibitively high at this time, Valeti believes that in four-years clean meat production will be cost effective enough to bring the product to market, and that it will eventually be cheaper to produce than conventional meat.
With technology developing so rapidly and the big financiers finally behind clean meat, it won’t be long before meat grown in a lab is on the shelf at your local supermarket. Therefore, it is critical that the clean meat industry provide consumer education to expand awareness and demystify clean meat. This is a product that could truly revolutionize the way we eat and help save our planet—one bite at a time.
 James McWilliams, Meat, Without All of the Blood and Guts, Pacific Standard (Nov. 6 2017), https://psmag.com/environment/meat-without-all-of-the-blood-and-guts.
 Olive Heffernan, A Meaty Issue, 544 Nature 18 (2017).
 McWilliams, see supra note 1.
 Aaron Smith, U.S. views of Technology and the Future, Science in the Next 50 Years, Pew Research Center (April 17 2014), http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/04/17/us-views-of-technology-and-the-future/.
 Dave Sjeklocha, Clean Meat? It’s not that simple, Beef Magazine (Oct. 30 2017), http://www.beefmagazine.com/beef-quality/clean-meat-its-not-simple.
 Patrick Gerland, et al., World Population Stabilization Unlikely This Century, 346 Science 234 (2014).
 Harold Marlow, Diet and the Environment: Does What You Eat Matter, 89 Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 1699 (2009).
 Andrew Amelinckx, Would You Eat Chicken Grown in a Lab?, Modern Farmer (Mar. 21 2017), https://modernfarmer.com/2017/03/eat-chicken-grown-lab/.