Over the past few years, TriplePundit has covered several start-ups determined to scale up laboratory meat – that is, animal protein derived from cell cultures instead of slaughtered animals.
The bandwagon started with Google’s Sergey Brin plunking down $330,000 for a lab burger five years ago. The company that created the world’s first laboratory-made hamburger, Mosa Meat, recently scored more funding in its quest to roll out laboratory meat in Europe by 2021. Incidentally, out of a drive to improve employee health while taking on climate change, Google has since encouraged employees to eat less meat at its onsite cafeterias.
Unlike plant-based products rolled out by the likes of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, these foods are still animal protein. But advocates for this sector note that once these products become cost-effective, we will see a significant drop in resources (such as grain and nitrates) needed by the global industry – as well as a decline in greenhouse gas emissions.
Laboratory meat faces one big hurdle, however: branding. There is the “ick” factor from the term “laboratory meat.” Other monikers such as “cultured meat,” “synthetic meat” and the deal-breaker “in vitro meat” also do little to whet consumers’ appetites. Let’s face it, few get excited at the thought of going to the supermarket to check out the latest “cultured meat prototypes” in the cold case.
But according to Washington State-based Faunalytics, a non-profit devoted to research about animals and animal advocacy issues, consumer acceptance is more than possible if the industry embraces and unites around a name change: clean meat.
Clean meat may sound like an oxymoron to some public health professionals and even to some animal welfare advocates, but Faunalytics suggests such a change can change the “ick” to ideal. After all, the group’s research demonstrated that when consumers were educated about how farmed animals are raised, many become convinced that meat the way we know it now is “unnatural.”
Overall, two-thirds of the people Faunalytics interviewed for this study said they were willing to try clean meat. Almost half (46 percent) would say that they would purchase clean meat regularly, even if there were a price premium. And 53 percent said they would consider replacing conventionally-produced meat with a clean meat alternative.
There is no shortage of companies on the lab meat/cultured meat/clean meat bandwagon. Hampton Creek, for example, is bullish on formulating animal protein that does not come directly from animals.
Nevertheless, clean meat has a long road ahead to gain consumer acceptance. Even under the most optimistic scenarios, it will be a few summers before clean meat burger patties, chicken or even fish filets find their way on summer barbecue or picnic menus. “The future of ‘clean meat’ will depend on whether it tastes and feels like the real thing,” as Bloomberg’s Deena Shanker and Lydia Mulvany summed up in a recent article about the nascent clean meat sector.
The push for clean meat is dovetailing with the private sector’s determination to improve employee wellness while doing its part to curtail climate change. WeWork, a global network of shared workspaces, made waves last month when the company announced it would no longer offer meat at company events – nor would employees be reimbursed for travel meals in which meat was ordered. It will not be long until larger and more visible companies announce similar policies.
Image credit: Mosa Meat
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media. His previous work can be found at The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.