Meat is everywhere in modern-day life, found at food trucks, the local grocer and luxurious restaurants alike. As ubiquitous as conventional meat seems, lab-based stem cell techniques continue to show promise in developing alternative sources of protein for the world’s carnivores. Along with plant-based substitutes, these cell-based alternatives are an innovation that seeks to reduce the known consequences of mass meat consumption. Perhaps one day, society may see stem cells fight hunger on a global scale.
Traditionally Sourced Meat
Meat, in all potential forms, is essential because of the proteins and nutrients it contains. This is particularly true for lower-income families. Due to its availability in many regions, meat serves a vital role in composing people’s diets. In fact, a 2018 article observes that “Both the global average per capita consumption of meat and the total amount of meat consumed are rising, driven by increasing average individual incomes and by population growth.” Thus, meat is a valuable resource due to the nourishment and food security that it can provide. Yet, the livestock requirements for an exponentially growing human population are significant.
The Rising Consumption of Resources
As of the last decade, 92% of all the freshwater that humanity consumes goes toward agriculture. About 33% of that is used for animal products. Not only do cattle, poultry and other livestock need water to drink, but their plant-based food sources need large amounts of water to grow. At the same time, the land devoted to supporting livestock raised for consumption takes up nearly 80% of all available agricultural land. Barring any major change, animal farming will likely continue to be extremely resource-intensive. This poses problems in a world that constantly demands more.
One company that recognizes the global need for sustainable meat is pursuing a new avenue of development: using stem cells to fight hunger. Memphis Meats, a startup founded in 2015, has received capital from investors like Bill Gates and Richard Branson. The company focuses on growing stem cells as meat alternatives. Pre-selected animal stem cells, when grown in Memphis Meats’ cultivators, can turn into real meat. While the company is still refining and enhancing its process, it shows promise.
Furthermore, the company has raised $161 million after its most recent call for investment. These funds will go toward further development and a new production facility. According to the Memphis Meats website, “At scale, our process will create less waste while dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” Memphis Meats therefore reaffirms that despite the potential problems of the animal agriculture current system, practical, sustainable business solutions do exist. Their work provides the possibility that stem cells could fight hunger in the near future.
A Look into the Crystal Ball
As concerns over livestock and agriculture stack up alongside concern over feeding a population of billions, these priorities may conflict. Easy answers are rarely easy to find. However, cell-based meat could provide an entirely new, sustainable source of food. At the same time, it could allow for a large-scale change in the management of the Earth’s land and water. Growing investments in this startup industry can also be a powerful force for change on a large scale.
Moreover, meat made from growing stem cells carries with it the potential to allow for important reallocations of currently available protein sources. This could one day substantially increase the international food supply while keeping it environmentally and socially conscious. It may sound farfetched that stem cells could fight hunger, but the necessity of a solution and initiatives like Memphis Meats suggest that this idea is not so far-off.
– Alan Mathew