Breaking news: Mother Earth endorses lab-grown meat

Would you be willing to eat a hamburger with real meat grown from animal cells (cell-cultured meat)? And what if it not only tasted better – but it was cheaper, healthier, and had a far smaller environmental footprint?

We believe the answer is “yes” - and so do the many companies and investors working hard to redefine how the world produces and consumes meat.

Recently, ArcTern invested in Mosa Meat, a Dutch-based startup in the cell-cultured meat sector co-founded by Professor Mark Post, the scientist behind the world’s first lab-grown burger. This funding round will be used to develop Mosa’s new commercial production facility in the Netherlands and launch its non-GMO burger in Europe.

As an environmentalist, I’m hopeful for cell-cultured meat’s potential to eliminate “big meats” nasty environmental footprint. As an investor, I’m positive there’s a windfall to be earned in this total overhaul of a trillion-dollar sector.

Dr. Mark Post, Chief Scientific Officer, Mosa Meat (2018)

Yes, it would be ideal if the global population shifted to a vegan diet, but we humans don’t exactly have the best track record of changing our behavior when faced with a crisis — particularly our climate crisis. Besides, meat is deeply embedded in many of our cultural and social norms, and we don’t see this changing any time soon.

Thankfully, what we do see is a better way forward for both us and Mother Earth.

In the future, we believe the most mouth-watering piece of meat you consume will be lab-cultured — not raised. Do you want ultra-premium wagyu beef in your everyday burger? No problem. Do you want it healthier? Done. We don’t have to give up steak, we just need to change the way it's produced.

If you really want to change human behavior for the future of our planet, you need to offer something better, healthier, and ideally — cheaper. This is Climate Capitalism at work! We believe people will shift to cell-cultured meat because it tastes better — and in turn, that will be a big win for our planet. In fact, even a brief glance at the numbers paints a pretty sobering picture: cell-cultured meat produces 78–96 percent fewer greenhouse gas, uses 99 percent less land, and 82–96 percent less water.

Meat production for human consumption represents 6–15 percent of our global GHG emissions, depending on how you calculate emissions from farm to fork. But no matter how you slice it, it’s a major contributor to climate change. Cell-culturing meat will reduce GHGs through the improved conversion of feed crop (and the use of waste feed crop), elimination of methane emissions, and reversal of deforestation for ranching and feed crop agriculture.

Agriculture and ranching have reshaped the earth’s surface; they are responsible for the start of our current geological time period — the Anthropocene. Livestock grazing uses 22–26% of the earth’s ice-free areas, and feed crop production uses approximately one-third of all arable land. And when we factor in the growing meat demand from burgeoning middle-classes in developing countries, there’s simply not enough land to derive the world’s protein from livestock.

And in addition, the stress on biodiversity from the encroachment of ranching and agriculture on natural habitats is staggering. We’re continuing to clear forest areas for livestock and feed crop production at a phenomenal rate — with 91 percent of the Amazon deforestation since 1970 attributable to cattle ranching. On the other hand, cell-cultured meat will reduce the 1.6 billion global cattle population by 100,000 times, freeing this precious land — and allowing biodiversity to thrive again.

But even despite the severe environmental impacts, industrial livestock production may be a greater threat to human health than we previously realized. The majority of infectious diseases are transmissible between humans and animals, and with the extreme use of antibiotics in industrial livestock production — we’ve created an environment that enables diseases and superbugs to spread faster than ever before.

Cell-cultured meat, plant-based proteins, and the shift to vegan diets will all “eat” away at the market share of conventional meat, and as prices drop below parity, this shift will continue to accelerate — just like we’ve seen in the battle between solar and coal. Big players are starting to wake up — Nestlé, Tyson Foods, Cargill, JBS and Bell Foods have all introduced plant-based products in recent years, and several have also invested in cell-cultured meat companies.

At the time of writing this, there were over 60 venture-funded cellular meat companies, and while this may be great news for the sector — not all will succeed. Producing meat at volume in large bioreactors is a daunting technical challenge. We see numerous risks to overcome, including media cost reduction (media can be thought of as the blood for cell growth), obtaining required cell density, scaling bioreactor efficacy at volumes >5,000L, and, in some cases, growing non-GMO muscle cells (myoblasts) in suspension without microcarriers. And these are just the challenges involved in producing ground meat; creating the perfect steak will require new levels of technical ingenuity — the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

Fortunately, there are a plethora of brilliant startups working on some very creative solutions to these problems. And after speaking with many of them, we firmly believe these challenges will be overcome, and the path to “meat parity” (when the cell-cultured meat price equates to that of conventional meat) is not as far off as many people might think.

However, we also understand that no single company can solve all of these challenges alone, and thus, the winners must have an open approach to innovation. They must also have years of deep scientific experience — and the capital necessary to continue attracting the best and brightest talent.

In this race to taste superiority and “meat parity”, we believe Mosa Meat has the bull by the horns, particularly in the non-GMO bovine cell space. They have the talent, capital, and commercial development pathway to create tomorrow’s meat — delivering superior taste, a lower cost, and a completely guilt-free dining experience.

Murray is managing partner at ArcTern Ventures, a venture capital firm investing globally in breakthrough clean technology growth companies.