Factory farms have come to symbolize everything that’s wrong with our food system. They’re synonymous with air and water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change, suffering and abused animals, water and food shortages, dangerous and cruel working conditions, and unhealthy food. What a mess.
Poll people on the street and they’ll admit the nature of factory farming is incongruent with their values. A recent Gallup poll indicated 97% of people oppose cruelty to animals. Sadly, 98% of people eat animals which exacts unthinkable cruelty against animals. Approximately 99% of meat, dairy, and eggs that consumers purchase originate from factory farms where egregious violence is the norm.
Why does such a divide exist between how people feel and how they act when it comes to food purchases? Consumers don’t yet have enough taste comparable, cost competitive, and convenient alternatives. That’s changing. And it’s changing in a way that could reduce and eventually eliminate a food system that belongs in history’s trash heap.
Imagine a world where people can eat meat from animals without feeling guilty about how it’s made. It’s coming. Think it isn’t necessary because plant-based meat is competing with meat from animals? Think again. Although rising steadily, the plant-based meat market currently comprises one-quarter of one percent of the total meat market despite impressive advancements by plant-based meat companies like Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Field Roast, and Gardein. Although the future is undoubtedly bright, especially given recent decisions by Tyson Foods and Maple Leaf Foods to acquire positions in plant-based meat companies, there is room for an additional option in the form of clean meat.
Paul Shapiro, the vice president of policy at the Humane Society of the United States, has written a new book on the topic: “Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World,” published by Simon and Schuster and launching January 2, 2018. Paul was one of the first people to taste clean meat, made by growing the cells of animals into meat without harming animals–the newest evolution to supplant factory farming. A biopsy from an animal the size of a sesame seed will be able to produce billions of pounds of meat. Truly remarkable! During his taste tests, Paul gave clean meat rave reviews. He was so impressed by it that it inspired him to write a book to explain its potential to change the food universe.
Paul is a wonderful ambassador for the causes of improving people’s health, environmental sustainability, and animal protection. He’s informed, effective, inspiring, thoughtful, and disarming. He also understands the food industry so it’s particularly exciting that he explored clean meat to share his views. Paul agreed to join me for an interview to discuss his new book and the current state of the movement to provide better options to feed the planet.
Kirschner’s Korner: Why did you choose to write Clean Meat?
Paul Shapiro: I needed to do something to get an interview on Kirschner’s Korner!
Seriously, writing the book was time-consumptive, but hopefully worthwhile. I’ve spent the last two decades working to help create a kinder world for animals, especially farm animals. But what if it’s not humane sentiment that’s going to end factory farming? What if food technology can do for farm animals what kerosene did for whales, or cars did for horses?
There’s a group of idealistic entrepreneurs who’ve all recently started companies aimed at doing just that. This book chronicles these pioneers: their motivations, their attempts to attract capital, their strategies, and more. Considering that they may ultimately do more good for animals than just about anything else, their story—especially at this early stage—deserves to be told.
What do you hope to accomplish with this book?
Well, I wouldn’t mind if it helped accelerate the end of factory farming. No pressure or anything.
But in the meantime, the book will introduce readers to the nascent field of cellular agriculture and help them explore the potential this field has to address some of the most pressing problems humanity faces. From climate change and resource scarcity to animal cruelty and food safety, we’ve got no shortage of difficulties. Cell ag has a role to play in lightening our impact on the inhabitants of this pale blue dot of a planet we call home.
In short, the people creating this new world of cellular agriculture are typically like you and me. Many of the leaders have come out of the animal welfare and environmental movements and decided that this is the best way they can make a positive impact in the world. That’s a big departure from the typical route of doing charity work, lobbying, raising awareness, and other more conventional advocacy methods. And maybe it’ll be even more effective—we’ll see. That’s not to say the conventional advocacy isn’t good—it’s of course good. But it is to say that perhaps there are even more efficient ways of ending factory farming.
Who are some of the innovators and entrepreneurs bringing us clean meat, milk, and eggs? What should we be excited about?
The book profiles many of the key players. Certainly nonprofits like the Good Food Institute and New Harvest, but it’s primarily focused on the entrepreneurs seeking to commercialize clean animal products. Those companies—like Modern Meadow, Hampton Creek, Memphis Meats, Mosa Meat, Finless Foods, SuperMeat, Future Meat Technologies, Perfect Day, Clara Foods, Bolt Threads, VitroLabs, Spiber, Geltor, and others—are seeking to disrupt and ultimately revolutionize our food and fashion industries, something their wealthy venture capital backers are banking on. As former Morgan Stanley senior vice president and Forbes writer Michael Rowland told me, “Cultured-meat technology, once perfected, will totally reshape our global meat supply. Our meat will be made with science, not animals.”
How do you expect the masses to react to clean meat? What do early polls indicate? What are the challenges?
Clean meat is just meat. It’s not an alternative to meat—it is meat. The difference is that it’s safer to eat, eco-friendlier to produce, and of course better for animals. Polls show anywhere from a fifth to two-thirds of Americans say they’d eat it, which is certainly enough to create a multi-billion dollar industry. But what we tell pollsters we’d do isn’t always what we actually end up doing in real life. If clean meat becomes cost-competitive with conventional meat, there’ll be a big shift toward to it, I’d predict.
What can you tell us about the process by which clean meat is made?
Basically, take a tiny sample of muscle cells and make them think they’re still in the animal’s body by putting them in a fermenter and feeding them nutrients. They keep growing just like they would in the animal’s body, allowing us to harvest real meat without the animal. Sounds like science fiction, but indeed, it’s now science fact.
By applying what have largely been medical technologies to growing animal-agricultural products, entrepreneurs are delivering to us what Dr. Uma Valeti, CEO of the clean meat start-up Memphis Meats, calls the “second domestication.”
In the first domestication, thousands of years ago, humans began selectively breeding animals and planting seeds, exerting more control over how we obtained food. Today, we’re taking that control down to the cellular level. Whereas our ancestors domesticated wild animals into livestock, today we’re beginning to domesticate those animals’ cells. And from one single cell of a cow, you could feed an entire village
Who should read Clean Meat? Why?
Anyone with an interest in the power of business and technology to actually solve, rather than cause, some of the biggest difficulties our planet faces.
Well then sales should be record-breaking! Indeed, this book should interest so many people — really anyone who cares about people, animals, and the planet. Paul, there has been a bit of hullabaloo over the recent sale of Field Roast. What are your thoughts?
This sale is a clear demonstration that Canada’s largest meat producer, Maple Leaf Foods, sees that there’s demand for plant-based meat and it’s acting accordingly. Even more, Field Roast will now be much more widely available than it was before, and hopefully more cost-competitive with its new economy of scale. When big dairy companies started buying plant-based milk companies, plant-based milks shot up and went from 1% of the market share to now more than 10% of the market share. Don’t we want animal-meat producers to become plant-based meat producers? Just as environmentalists welcome BP starting to shift toward wind and solar, vegans ought to welcome meat companies starting to shift towards plant-based meat.
Extremely well articulated Paul. Thank you for sharing your perspective. Finally, it’s a source of tremendous pride that PCRM founder Dr. Neal Barnard, Hampton Creek co-founder and vice-president of farm animal protection at HSUS Josh Balk, PETA co-founder Alex Pacheco, and several other prominent animal rights advocates attended my alma mater George Washington University. Do you know any other animal rights advocates who attended GW?