Just three years ago, there wasn’t a single company focused exclusively on commercializing clean meat, or real meat grown without animals. Today, as discussed in Scientific American, there’s a nascent industry of several start-ups racing to bring to market real beef, duck, fish, chicken, and other animal products, all of which will be produced without having to raise and slaughter animals. Using animal cells rather than animal slaughter, these companies aim to do to factory farms what kerosene did to the whaling industry.
In response to this new field of cellular agriculture, a key question many agriculture and food experts have wondered is whether this idea is mere science fiction fantasy, or if clean meat is indeed now a science fact that will some day in the near-future be heading to store shelves. Now one of the world’s foremost experts in food and ag trends, Nicholas Fereday, Senior Analyst for Consumer Foods at Rabobank, has weighed in.
While big-name investors like Richard Branson and Bill Gates made media waves when they invested in clean meat start-up Memphis Meats, it was other big names that particularly caught the agribusiness bank’s attention. Rather than watching billionaire business titans, Fereday was even more impressed by the moves of billion-dollar meat industry behemoths. Recently ag giants like Tyson Foods and Cargill made investments in Memphis Meats, making it clear that they see the future of protein as much more than simply growing the animal agriculture sector.
“It’s not a threat to us, it’s an opportunity,” Sonya McCullum Roberts, president of growth ventures at Cargill, recently told Fortune magazine. At the same time, PHW, a major German poultry company, just invested in Israeli clean meat start-up SuperMeat.
“The fact that players like Cargill and PHW are involved legitimizes the sector,” Fereday proclaims, making it clear that clean meat isn’t a passing fad. In fact, he goes on to observe that if only five percent of consumers would make a switch to such meat, it would be a multibillion dollar industry.
But consumer surveys consistently show far higher acceptance of clean meat than just five percent. In fact, one recent study of Americans found that a third would regularly eat clean meat, while another third would at least give it a try. That’s good news for companies like JUST (formerly Hampton Creek), which are moving with deliberate speed to bring their clean animal products — such as clean foie gras — to consumers.
If these start-ups succeed, it could help enable a much more sustainable food future, allowing us to feed the incoming billions of people who’ll join us on the planet by 2050. With projections for clean meat production showing dramatically less resource use compared to conventional meat production, cellular agriculture just might allow humanity to have our meat and eat it too.
Paul Shapiro is the author of the Washington Post bestseller, Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World.