Gates and Branson Back Lab-Grown Meat

Meat is avoided by many people due to concerns about the environment, personal health, and the issue of humaneness to animals. Besides these issues, some are concerned about the feasibility of producing enough meat to provide the world’s growing population. Yet it isn’t realistic to expect all of humanity to become vegetarians.

For these reasons and others, Bill Gates and Richard Branson have invested in companies developing lab-grown meat. Currently, lab-grown meat (also called ‘clean meat’) is rather expensive. The first burger made by this process in 2013 cost roughly $300,000 dollars. The price has since fallen to roughly $11, but there is a long way to go. Clean meat has the potential to eventually be cheaper than traditionally grown meat due to its lower theoretical resource input needs. It requires less than one-fifth of the water as traditional meat, and about 1% of the land.

One of the biggest hurdles is that traditional meat production has a great economy of scale and well developed procedures. Overcoming this is possible, but it will require time and money. Bruce Friedrich, of The Good Food Institute thinks expensive clean meat will hit the market in about three years, and will be be cost competitive within ten years. One clean meat company plans to start providing burgers to high end restaurants in an attempt to be competitive with traditional meat.

Clean meat is made by taking a biopsy from an animal, then growing the cells in a nutrient mix. In addition to requiring less water and land, this eliminates the need to produce bone, ligaments, and other tissues which may not be very marketable. Harsh extremes of weather, disease, and accidents during transporting livestock are also removed.

This new approach has attracted the interest of larger agricultural businesses, who do not want to be blindsided by a technology that might someday be used by market competitors. For instance, Tyson and Cargill have made investments in clean meat startups.