SuperMeat: The Path to a Sustainable Future

The Problem

Climate change.

It’s a term met with controversy. There’s denial that it’s occurring, that it’s a conspiracy. But in 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) established a worldwide scientific consensus that climate change is occurring, leaving citizens with one question: what next?

MVHS biology students learn that climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions increasing average global temperatures through the greenhouse effect, as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) explained. Biology classes stress that decreasing greenhouse gas emissions is the first step to limiting the severity of climate change. Methods range from water conservation to energy efficiency, but one effective yet commonly overlooked solution is to reduce meat consumption.

The Process

SuperMeat, an Israeli startup company working to produce lab-grown meat, could be the first step in mitigating climate change. Using cell culture, they extract and duplicate animal cells to grow cultured meat.

Seeding stem cells onto growth factor laden scaffold matrix in presence of nutrition is used for tissue regeneration. (Source: Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research)
Seeding stem cells onto growth factor laden scaffold matrix in presence of nutrition is used for tissue regeneration.
(Source: Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research)

Stem cells are placed in a machine replicating the animal’s natural biological conditions. In this optimal environment, extracted stem cells are able to duplicate quickly with the help of scaffolds and a nutrient rich solution.

Biodegradable scaffolds provide a basic structure for stem cells to grow into regenerated tissue. Image taken from jcdr.net

According to Ferjal J. O’Brien, scaffolds, which are engineered biomaterials, direct tissue generation. The matrix-like scaffold provides structure, guiding the growth of stem cells into animal tissue to eventually form cultured meat. This technique produces lab grown meat that sets SuperMeat apart from its competitors.

“SuperMeat is going to grow the tissue organically as one piece,” SuperMeat said. “That will make our meat, real meat. No mix of separately grown cells, blended together; This is the real thing!”

The Product

Following the announcement of this startup company, one common concern that arose was how SuperMeat differed from conventional meat.

Because of SuperMeat’s method of cell culture, its product retains the same chemical makeup and therefore the same taste and nutritional value as conventional meat. While there are many similarities between cultured and conventional meat, SuperMeat stresses that their product is not only healthier but more affordable.

“SuperMeat is going to be cheaper than conventional meat because culturing meat and mass producing it is just cheaper than growing and feeding billions of animals,” SuperMeat said. “It’s just logic.”

The company hopes that SuperMeat’s affordability will make it economically accessible to potential customers.

“SuperMeat’s device will open the door to an affordable and sustainable source of human food, helping to end public health hazards,” SuperMeat said.

Since SuperMeat is produced in a controlled environment, it will be more sterile, causing less food borne illnesses in comparison to conventional meat. Due to the extensive involvement SuperMeat has in the production process, this also allows for opportunities to control nutritional value, as SuperMeat’s website details. For example, developers can reduce fat content or enrich meat with Omega-3, ultimately improving public health.

The Purpose

SuperMeat is mainly targeted towards meat eaters, sparking interest for a multitude of reasons, though many vegetarians, such as freshman Ishita Agrawal, have had varying opinions.

“I wouldn’t [eat SuperMeat],” Agrawal said, attributing her choice mainly to religious and health reasons. “I’m a vegetarian, so obviously I wouldn’t want to eat something that has the same nutritional value as meat.”

Freshman Laasya Koduru, who considers herself mostly vegetarian and consumes meat once a week, maintains a similar stance as Agrawal. Koduru, however, holds different reasoning behind her choice.

“I wouldn’t eat [SuperMeat] because you never know,” Koduru said. “It might be bad for the human body. If it was changed by a labif it was altered by the experiments, you can’t really trust if it would be safe.”

According to freshman Anju Jain, the potential positive effects on the environment outweigh the fact that SuperMeat is the product of bioengineering.

“Yeah, [I would eat SuperMeat],” Jain said. “It takes a lot more resources to produce one pound of meat than to eat a crop grown food.”

About 80 percent of farmland is used for meat production, whether it be for raising animals or growing livestock feed, while one pound of California beef requires 2,464 gallons of water, as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Water Education Foundation report. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), animal agriculture as a whole, including energy usage for transportation and production of feed and livestock, emit more greenhouse gases than all planes, ships and automobiles combined.

The cumulative effect is startling.

Animal agriculture and meat production are responsible for 47 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, as David W. Smith writes for the USDA, and SuperMeat is a potential solution to reduce the effects of climate change. However, cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions is not SuperMeat’s only motive.

“I feel like [SuperMeat]’s a good investment because… less resources are used for consumption of the meat,” junior Rayyan Iqeal said. “This type of technology is the future.”

According to SuperMeat’s website, in comparison to conventional meat, production of SuperMeat requires 99 percent less land and 90 percent less water for the same amount of meat. A smaller amount of resources can provide for a larger amount of people, making SuperMeat a high impact and sustainable solution.

“Cultured meat is an applicable and practical solution for the majority of problems in our world: Energy, hunger, economy and the suffering of animals,” Shir Friedman, VP of Marketing and spokesperson for SuperMeat, said.

On July 11, SuperMeat launched a fundraiser, hoping to raise $100k for further research, technology and production. Though they met their goal on July 21, their journey is not over yet. They hope to raise a total of $500k to continue their research and development of SuperMeat.

“Our aim is to have a public proof of principle tasting about two years from now,” Professor Yaakov Nahmias, co-founder and head researcher of SuperMeat, told FoodNavigator-USA. “The first company that gets to market with a product that is cost effective is definitely going to change the world.”

Global climate change is an increasingly urgent and relevant issue to humanity, and technology with the ability to reduce greenhouse gases emitted in animal agriculture is revolutionary. If the company receives enough support for research and development, SuperMeat can lead the path to a sustainable future.