Memphis Meats, a San Francisco-based food technology company, is on the verge of making history. With the world’s increasing, unhealthy, and environmentally unsustainable demand for meat, the company’s innovators discovered a way to grow it from animals’ cells sans the negative aspects of animal agriculture.
How do they do it? They grow it by creating conditions where cells develop naturally, infusing a combination of vitamins, minerals, and glucose. Currently, it takes weeks to produce a meatball at a cost of thousands of dollars. Still in the R & D process, the company expects to reduce the production time and cost and hopes to bring their meats to market within five years.
In this interview, visionary CEO and Co-founder Uma Valeti, MD discusses the exciting developments and future at Memphis Meats.
Kirschner’s Korner (KK): What, if any, challenges do you face bringing cultured meat to the mass market other than making it cost competitive?
Uma Valeti, MD (UV): We’re developing real meat from animal cells, without needing to feed, breed or slaughter animals. The biggest hurdle we face is education. 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.
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.
KK: Do you anticipate any objections from consumers that the meat is grown in a lab? How will you normalize the production process in people’s minds?
UV: One thing we’d love to clarify, is that it’s slightly misleading to say our products are grown in a “lab”. Our cultured meat (or clean meat) is initially being developed in a lab – the same as virtually all packaged foods, from corn flakes to veggie burgers. While it is developed in the lab, it will ultimately be produced in breweries, comparable to beer breweries.
The potential to clean meat is very promising. Not only do we aim to reduce risk of health issues associated with fecal contamination or illness, we also add benefits. Environmentally, we aim to produce meat that requires significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions, less water, less land and less energy. Finally, our products detach animal slaughter from the meat production process.
Conventionally produced meat is far from natural – it is pumped full of antibiotics, artificial growth hormones and pesticides, not to mention animals are genetically selected to grow six times their natural size.
Once people become aware of the issues of the current meat production system and compare that to the advantages of clean meat, they become overwhelmingly in favor of the latter. Our job is to make sure we’re getting the facts out there and providing people with as much information as possible.
A few ways we’re doing that is through our new Indiegogo campaign and newsletter. Everyone is encouraged to join our mission and give input in our product direction including the type of meat we develop, which stores we partner with and where we release our first products. This group of early supporters will be the force that gets mainstream audiences ready for clean meat.
KK: Initial taste tests have been extremely positive. What if any reaction have you received from the animal agriculture industry? Is it possible they might enter the market?
UV: Our goal is to improve the meat production process. As a result, we are very open to working with the agribusiness industry to bring our products to consumers. Our goal is to make an impact, and that can only happen if our products are mainstream.
KK: As a cardiologist, how much of a positive impact do you anticipate Memphis Meats could have on human health given the diseases associated with eating animals? Is there any way to estimate a projection?
UV: We want to give consumers a choice between clean meat and conventionally produced meat. Given a choice, we think people will choose clean meat, because we are working to make it better tasting, more affordable, better for the planet and better for the body.
One of the big advantages of our process is that we can reduce risk of bacterial contamination. Because we do not need to slaughter animals, we expect a much lower risk of fecal contamination, E. coli and salmonella (among others). And we don’t need to worry about disease, like swine flu or mad cow disease. We are also looking into other ways we might make our products healthier than conventionally produced meat.
KK: What is your vision for Memphis Meats?
UV: We are working toward a future food system that is better for the planet, the animals and humanity.