SuperMeat is an Israeli startup changing how we grow meat

SuperMeat is a new Israeli Indiegogo funded startup with the potential to one day revolutionise the meat industry. The idea is that meal-ready meat can be grown in a laboratory without so much as hurting a single animal. Now just to clarify, this is not going to be plant-based alternatives but “real meat that tastes and feels like meat because it is real meat, without harming animals” at least according to their campaign video. There are 3 products that will be the focus - chicken liver meat, minced meat and chicken breast meat.

This is based on some of the most cutting edge science led by Professor Yaakov Nahmias, who is the founder and head of research. Based at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as the Director of the Centre of Bioengineering, he is a recognised expert in liver tissue engineering and nanotechnology therapies for diabetes, having authored more than 40 peer-reviewed papers and a book.

The science behind SuperMeat

In essence, the science behind the cultured meat is that small tissue samples are collected from a chicken without hurting it. Then, employing tissue-engineering techniques based on principles of regenerative medicine, they are incubated in a way that imitates the physiology of the animal thus enabling them to grow into much larger tissues. They would also be given nutrients to facilitate growth and division into meat, in what is described as a ‘nutrient soup’.

The SuperMeat Indiegogo campaign video

Perhaps Nahmias explains it a little more eloquently – “we organise these cells into miniscule tissues and place them in a unique environment that is designed to perfectly mimic animal physiology allowing those small tissues to organically grow into large muscles, essentially like they do in nature”.

 The benefits of SuperMeat

It also isn’t just the animal that would benefit from cultured meat. It is literally the whole world. Since the release of the 2006 Livestock’s Long Shadow report delivered by the UN, which revealed the impact that animal agriculture has on climate change, the environmental case for abandoning meat is becoming increasingly recognised.

How SuperMeat benefits the environment

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, livestock kept for animal agriculture accounts for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions that are contributing to global warming. It is also the source of 37% of methane gas emissions and the main cause of deforestation in leading beef producing countries.

Professor Yaakov Nahmias, the brains behind SuperMeat.

Professor Yaakov Nahmias, the brains behind SuperMeat.

Furthermore, meat production results in huge water consumption, with 1 pound of beef requiring 6,810 litres of water and 1 pound of pork taking 2,180 litres according to Food Tank. The SuperMeat campaign claims their cultured meat would produce up to 96% less greenhouse gases, use up to 96% less water and up to 99% less land than the meat industry at present.

How SuperMeat benefits human health

Additionally, SuperMeat would be cleaner and safer to consume, as it would be developed in a tightly monitored environment thus minimising the risk of bacterial contamination. It would be healthier given that the nutritional value could be maximized through making it richer in protein, omega-3 fatty acids and iron among other nutrients, alongside the possibility of producing reduced fat or non-fat meat. Furthermore, there would be prevention of pandemics, it would be free from growth hormones used in rearing cattle and it would avoid bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

The economics of SuperMeat

So, how much is this humane, eco-friendly meat going to cost you? Not much, you’ll be glad to hear. These products are predicted to be cheap at around $5 per pound.

This is not the first attempt at lab-grown meat; in 2013 a lab-grown burger was made by Dutch scientists, which cost an incredible $330,000 (£251,000) and in May, an American company made an $18,000 (£13,700) meatball. As for SuperMeat, however, Nahmias argues that its major selling point is the possibility of localising production, saying “we can place our meat-generating machines in local supermarkets, in restaurants and even at your own home”, making it available at a mass-market scale.

To top it off, they also make a case for solving world hunger due to the fact that the meat requires so few resources to produce. The Indiegogo page cautions that with an anticipated world population of 9.6 billion people by 2050, “with the way things are going, there won’t be enough livestock to feed that many people”.

When to expect SuperMeat

What are we waiting for? Well, despite the fact that the products are expected to be cheap, the science behind creating them is not. To bring about a cost-efficient prototype that could produce edible meat, $2,500,000 is needed. The campaign raised a super $211,000 on Indiegogo, hitting 200% of their goal funds. This will be going towards research, prototyping, and getting investor ready. 

All is going to plan, the first prototype is anticipated for January 2018 and the team hope to have their products manufactured and available in 2021. For more, check out SuperMeat.