Lab-grown meat isn’t just “coming”; it’s here. Back in February, a company called Memphis Meats taste-tested what it billed as “the world’s first cultured meatball” made from lab-grown beef. Problem was the beef used for that tiny meatball cost about $18,000 per pound. In 2013, the world’s first test-tube hamburger was made for a mere $325,000, so the good news is the process appears to be getting cheaper. But a lingering question with lab-made meat remains: When, if ever, will it be practical?
A new company called SuperMeat believes the “if” is a definite and the “when” is so soon that it’s already launched an Indiegogo campaign to start raising money. The Israel-based outfit that focuses, uniquely, on chicken meat – specifically “chicken liver meat, minced meat and chicken breast meat” – provides the following overview: “Yaakov Nahmias is an award winning biomedical engineer and a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Together we've been developing a system for producing small scale cultured meat. That means growing REAL meat in machines in supermarkets and communities all over the world.”
The benefits of lab-grown meat are well-established, and SuperMeat will gladly give you a refresher course if you can get through its super-annoying Indiegogo video. (Side note: Can everyone please stop trying to emulate the successful Dollar Shave Club video? You’re doing it wrong.) Lab-grown meat is, theoretically, more humane and more environmentally-friendly, and could have even more possible benefits like fighting world hunger, being grown to be healthier than conventional meat or even selling for less than what we pay now.
Though the benefits are generally agreed upon, the when is still up for debate. Memphis Meats said maybe three to four years. Last May, Dutch professor Mark Post pegged the number at closer to “20, 30 years from now” before “we will have a viable industry producing alternative beef.” As I write this, SuperMeat has already raised nearly $60,000 in guaranteed funds. And even its timeline is a bit of a slog: The “first prototype” isn’t due until January 2018, with “product availability” slated for “July 2021.”
So what are backers getting for their hard-earned cash? Vouchers, equivalent to the amount they pledge, for “SuperMeat products of your choice” – as well as an added bonus item like a pin or, for a $200 pledge, a shirt. Hopefully all these backers have a safe place to store those vouchers for five years!
Even on Indiegogo, SuperMeat admits its “ultimate goal for this campaign” is $2.5 million: That’s what it will take to create “our cost efficient prototype, ready for tasting.” With its current campaign goal set for just $100,000, what doesn’t seem to get mentioned is how the company plans to meet its 2021 deadline if it falls $2.4 million short of that ultimate goal.
So back to my first question: When, if ever, will lab-grown meat be practical? I definitely think, and hope for all the positive reasons above, that the “if” will happen. As for the when, let’s just say I’m not throwing my money down yet – not because I don’t think it can happen in five years, but because anything can happen in five years.