Mark Post, a professor at Maastricht University, holds the world’s first lab-grown beef burger. (phys.org)

Mark Post, a professor at Maastricht University, holds the world’s first lab-grown beef burger. (phys.org)

Salvation in a vat: The artificial meat era

Gwynne Dyer

“We are putting a final end to the fossil era,” said Denmark’s’s climate minister, Dan Jorgensen, last week. What he meant was that the European Union’s biggest oil and gas producer is officially getting out of the petrochemical business after 80 years.

There’s still more oil under the North Sea off Denmark’s west coast, but the government has just cancelled its next scheduled auction of oil and gas licenses. There will be no further exploration, and no new production platforms built.

It’s not quite as big a deal as it sounds, because Europe’s three biggest oil and gas producers, Russia, Norway and the United Kingdom, are not members of the EU, and they are are still in the business. But the latter two are now also discussing whether they should leave some of their oil and gas in the ground forever, which is a step in the right direction.

This is how progress is generally made in the struggle to stop global heating: one slow step at a time, and maybe therefore too little, too late. But last week saw something much more dramatic on what you might call the Food & Climate front: the first restaurant to serve artificial meat.

Next to burning fossil fuels, the biggest cause of anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse gas emissions is agriculture – and more than half of all food-related G-G emissions come from producing meat. That’s the hardest part of the puzzle to solve, because people are very attached to eating meat and there’s no good substitute. Until recently.

Now there’s plenty. Near Tel Aviv last Thursday a burger joint called The Chicken opened its doors for the first time. It looks pretty normal, except for a glass back wall through which you can see people in lab coats moving between big stainless steel vats called bio-reactors. That’s where they make the chicken.

It’s ‘cultured’ chicken: real live chicken cells grown in a solution containing all the necessary nutrients and doubling in volume every day. But no bacterial contamination from animal waste, no hormones and antibiotics to speed growth and slow the spread of disease, no land used to grow the chicken feed, no 130 million chickens slaughtered every day.

SuperMeat, the parent company, is sticking with ground meat for burgers for now, but there’s no technical reason why it couldn’t be chicken breast with the familiar texture and taste of real chickens. And they’re currently giving it away (to invited guests only) rather than selling it, because Israel’s regulatory authority has not approved it for sale yet.

That will come soon, but they’ll probably have to go on giving it away for a while because each burger patty costs around $35 to produce. But that’s down from $300,000 for the first beef hamburger patty in 2013, and Ido Savir, CEO of SuperMeat, reckons that the cost of cultured or ‘cultivated’ meat (the terminology is still evolving) will fall to parity with slaughtered meat in six or seven years.

It’s moving fast. Just the day before The Chicken opened in Israel, an American company called Eat Just got regulatory approval to sell its cultured ‘chicken bites’, produced in a 1,200-litre bioreactor, in a restaurant in Singapore. And back in Israel Aleph Farms unveiled its first lab-grown beef steaks last month. (They prefer the term ‘biofarmed’)

Aleph’s innovation is cultured beef that actually comes with the shape and texture of traditional steak. (All the players can pass the taste test, because they are all working with real beef cells.) The process is designed for large-scale production, they’ve patented it six ways from Sunday, and they’ll do a pilot launch at the end of 2022.

This is going to happen. All the promising start-ups are attracting major investment from food giants like Cargill (Aleph’s godfather). We are at the start of a high-speed global transition, at least for the mass market, from born-fed-and-slaughtered beef, pork and chicken to ‘cultivated’ versions of the same meat.

How fast. Think 10-15 years, It needs to happen fast because meat and dairy production alone account for almost 15% of greenhouse gas emissions. Vegetarianism and veganism alone will not solve the problem because they still depend on growing crops on the land, and also because people are very conservative about diet.

This is how to save the Amazon, where the forest is being cut down to grow the soy that will feed the world’s cattle. In fact, this is how to take half the world’s cropland out of production.

Rewild that land and we solve about six problems at once. We even give ourselves a chance of cutting emissions fast enough to avoid driving global average temperature above +2°C and unleashing hell on Earth.

All we have to do then is to figure out what a billion or so farm families will do for income instead. That’s tomorrow’s problem.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A medical worker prepares vials of the COVID-19 vaccines, Chinese Sinopharm, left, Sputnik V, center, and Pfizer at a vaccine centre, in the Usce shopping mall in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Serbian authorities are looking for incentives for people to boost vaccination that has slowed down in recent weeks amid widespread anti-vaccination and conspiracy theories in the Balkan nation. The government has also promised a payment of around 25 euros to everyone who gets vaccinated by the end of May. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
38 new COVID-19 cases, more than 335k vaccines administered in Interior Health

Interior Health also to start targeted vaccinations in high transmission neighbourhoods

FILE PHOTO
Second doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be available, as AstraZeneca supply runs low: Interior Health

Province expecting large volumes of Pfizer BioNTech as age-based cohort immunization program ramps up

Greg Nesteroff and Eric Brighton, the historians behind popular Facebook page Lost Kootenays, are set to release a book of the same name and have just unveiled its cover showing the ghostly Hotel in Slocan City shortly before its 1953 demolition. Photo courtesy of Greg Nesteroff and Eric Brighton.
Popular historical Facebook page Lost Kootenays set to release book

128-page hard copy documenting history of East and West Kootenays coming this fall

1914
It happened this week in 1914

May 2 - 8: Compiled by Dave Humphrey from the newspapers at the Cranbrook History Centre and Archives

MBSS visual art students helped make the Cottage Restaurant’s protective barrier stand out for the summer. (Barry Coulter photo)
Artists give Cottage patio blocks a blast of colour

Mount Baker Secondary School visual art students gave the protective barrier at… Continue reading

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Most Read