A wide array of new technologies have debuted recently with the potential to render various cattle products obsolete. A number of companies and innovators have made progress in search of ways to synthesize products from cattle, in an efficient lab setting. Though various obstacles still lie ahead for these products, recent breakthroughs have made the path towards synthesized cattle products much clearer.
Earlier this year, Memphis Meats debuted a “cultured meatball” grown in a lab from cow, pig, and chicken cells. CEO and founder, Uma Valeti, rejects the classification of “lab-grown meat”, identifying their process as more like a “meat brewery.” Cells are fed a diet of glucose, vitamins, and minerals. Taste test results were positive, with tasters unable to tell that the meatball was grown from cells. The main drawback of the Memphis Meats product is the cost – 18,000 dollars per one pound of meat.
Another project, by Brooklyn based Modern Meadow, uses cow cells to grow sheets of collagen for making leather products. The company claims that lab-grown leather may lead to an ability to eliminate flaws such as inconsistencies and scars often seen in real leather. The process may someday be able to impart water resistance and increased durability.
KOD, a synthetically derived collagen, may hold significant advantages over bovine collagen. Collagen has strong potential for treating injuries, but foreign antibodies from bovine collagen can be rejected by the immune system. KOD, which lacks bovine genes, will not be rejected.
A Silicon Valley startup, Muufri, is creating lab-grown milk using genetically engineered yeast. By inserting cattle DNA sequences into yeast cells, cultures can be grown to produce a milk with much more resemblance to dairy milk than soy or almond milk. The Muufri team aims to make their milk as tasty and healthful as traditional cow milk, adding calcium, potassium, and sugars separately from the yeast grown proteins. They are also experimenting with other sugars more easily digested than lactose. Furthermore, researchers at MIT are researching synthetic insulin that stays in the blood and releases when needed, to replace bovine insulin which can cause allergic reactions.
Cattle are inefficient compared with other agriculture and types of livestock, and often harmful to their environment, requiring 28 times more land and 11 times as much irrigation as other livestock. Livestock in general are the cause of a range of environmental problems including deforestation, greenhouse gases, desertification, and erosion. They consume an enormous amount of feed for the amount of food they produce, with 26 percent of the world’s terrestrial surface used for livestock grazing, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. For these reasons, as well as the ethics of animal slaughter, a number of innovators have prioritized the task of replacing cattle products with synthetic solutions.