Eat A Hot Dog, Save the World!

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Credits: call me hangry 🇫🇷/Unsplash

Meatable says you can have your steak and eat it, guilt free, as its cultured meat is set to hit restaurants next year, reports Forbes.

Americans love hot dogs. 20 billion of them are guzzled each year in the US. And that’s just a tiny fragment of the 350 million tons of meat gobbled up globally.

People love meat,” says Krijn De Nood, CEO of Dutch cellular agriculture start-up Meatable. “It’s a fantastic product. It’s high in protein. But it’s completely ruining our planet.”

Better meat

The world’s appetite for meat has tripled in the last fifty years. No wonder. It’s tasty. It’s packed with protein, vitamins and minerals. It’s an indispensable ingredient for many.

But it comes with huge costs. Farmed animals, which outnumber humans, contribute most of the greenhouse gas emissions due to agriculture. Antibiotic resistance and diseases associated with livestock farming pose grave threats to human health.

Of the meat we produce, over 20% is wasted.

Meatable turns single animal cells into pork sausages in a matter of weeks, without the need to rear and slaughter billions of cows and pigs each year. And it can be brewed up in tanks, kind-of like beer. Anywhere.

You don’t need meadows or farmland,” says Daan Luining, Meatable’s CTO. “You don’t need to transport this all over the world. We can do this in a skyscraper in the middle of Manhattan or Shanghai, any metropolitan area.”

Sausages in Singapore

If that sounds far-fetched, you’re in for a sausage-shaped surprise.

Meatable has recently partnered with Singapore-based ESCO Aster, the world’s first and so-far only commercially licensed cultured meat manufacturer, to do just that.

Singapore wants to make 30% of its own meat by 2030,” explains Krijn. “They really want to be sustainable in terms of their food. So, next year, in select restaurants in Singapore, you’ll be able to eat one of our products.”

Those products currently include sausages, as well as pork dumplings designed especially for the Singaporean market. By 2025 they aim to reach supermarket shelves.

After that, it’s the US.

Since the FDA declared late last year that ‘lab grown’ meat is safe to eat, it’s just a few regulatory steps away from becoming reality.

Meatable are among a number of companies pushing for a switch to lab grown, or cultured, meat. In the US, California-based Upside Foods cultivates chicken, while Orbillian Bio is looking at Wagyu beef, and even Elk. Back in Singapore Shiok Meats is adding seafood such as crab, lobster and shrimp to the mix. There are many more examples, from Mexico to Turkey.

But the term ‘lab grown’ may well be a misnomer. Meatable’s process could be likened more to industrial fermentation – albeit using some ingenious cellular tricks to convert single cells into meat, rather than grain into beer.

How does it work?

For Daan, the story began as he helped make the world’s first ever cultured burger whilst working as a student under the guidance of Mark Post.

We basically demonstrated the concepts,” explains Daan. “It was blunt force. Taking muscle cells from animals, culturing them in the lab, expanding them, and turning them into very small muscle fibers.”

Cultured meat was far from scalable at that point (the burger cost a six-figure sum). But then Daan met Mark Kotter, co-founder and CEO of bit.bio, a synthetic biology company using stem cell technology for the biopharmaceutical industry. He convinced him that his breakthrough technology could also be used to grow meat. Krijn joined as the third, business-savvy co-founder, and Meatable was formed.

Meatable’s process relies on understanding the exact ingredients required to turn a single ‘pluripotent’ animal stem cell – one that can become any type of cell – into muscle, or fat. It’s a matter of turning on the right genes and proteins, knowing exactly what buttons to press to get the desired product.

Importantly, the process doesn’t require the use of fetal bovine (or porcine) serum, which Daan describes as “an elephant in the room in the field.” A sample can be taken once from an animal, and the process then infinitely replicated.

To make a sausage, it’s a matter of growing the pluripotent cells in two different tanks, one for muscle and one for fat. You grow them up, give them the right instructions, then mix the two products together at the end in a kind of dough.

From there, says Krijn, “you can make your British bangers, or German bratwurst.”

Sustainable sausages

There have been conflicting reports on the environmental benefits of cultured meat. Some studies point to 87% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, 90% less land use and 96% less water use. Others are more skeptical, citing the energy required to run bioreactors and factory facilities. But Meatable is at the cusp of this developing industry, and says its process is the quickest out there.

It is so incredibly fast,” lauds Daan animatedly. “We have time lapse videos where you can see, within eight days, the transformation of cells becoming long and spindly or accumulating fat droplets.”

It takes many months, years even, to farm pigs and cattle to produce meat. Meatable’s process takes just weeks. So, while the reactors require certain inputs, including the energy to keep them at around 98 degrees Fahrenheit, the time saved should slash the overall environmental impact.

If you look at the literature, lab grown pork comes out around 30-40% more efficient than farming,” says Krijn. “But what’s typically assumed in those processes, for example, is a very long cell differentiation time. Our process is significantly quicker.”

The future of protein

Krijn stresses that “what we need to be honest about is that it will never be as sustainable as plant-based meat,” a well-known example of which is Impossible Foods. On the flip side, he points out that Meatable’s process doesn’t require the same level of additives needed to make plants taste like meat. It’s more of a “whole foods” product.

He sees cultured meat as part of a sustainable ecosystem for the future of protein, where consumers have a range of more environmentally friendly choices. To that end, as well as launching sausages in Singapore, Meatable has also partnered with the plant-based butcher Love Handle to establish a Future of Meat Innovation Centre in Singapore.

I think how we see foods and meat will change,” explains Krijn. “In the US you might get asked, what’s your source of protein? In ten, twenty or thirty years, I think that you’ll have the whole palette of different technologies to choose from – plant, fungal, or cultured – all coming together.

And what about that steak?

Humans are incredible tasting machines,” says Daan. “With steak, the expectations are very high. The bite is what we’re making the biggest steps towards.”

This is very, very challenging work that we’re doing,” adds Krijn. “The steak is not around the corner. But we’re already seeing amazing success, far beyond anything I would have expected.”

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Source: Forbes

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