A Dutch start-up may have found a workaround for eco-conscious consumers struggling to give up
meat: pork grown in a laboratory that doesn't harm animals or damage the planet.
Meatable will this summer unveil its first pork prototype made entirely from cultured animal cells instead of from slaughtered animals, according to its CEO.
Unlike other companies from America, Europe and Israel racing to develop environmentally-friendly 'clean meat', Meatable's pork does not use animal serum, a fluid derived from animal blood.
"We're trying to help solve some of the world's biggest challenges... we do not just want to make one or two hamburgers, we want to change the world," said Krijn de Nood, whose company raised $10 million in seed-funding in December from investors including the European Commission.
With a single cell sourced from a living animal "in a completely painless way", Meatable can produce large batches of cells required to make meat "in a matter of days to weeks" instead of months, the company said.
The technology was pioneered by Stanford and Cambridge university scientists and is based on a discovery about the manipulation of living cells that won a Nobel Prize in 2012.
Clean meat is held up by scientists and environmentalists as a potential breakthrough in the fight against climate change.
Rearing livestock accounts for about 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for a warming planet, according to the United Nations, and land used for agriculture is a major driver of deforestation.
Companies such as Aleph Farms and Memphis Meats are trying to produce beef and poultry by nurturing animal cells in a petri dish and then in large bioreactors that resemble beer-brewing vats.
Astronomical production costs have fallen from an infamous lab-grown burger in 2013 that cost $280,000 to around $100 per kilogram of cultured meat.
But obstacles remain. America's cattle ranchers are pushing for legislation that would bar the use of word meat to describe plant-based or lab-grown meat because they are "not derived from animals born, raised and harvested in the traditional manner".
Cultured meat production with high energy inputs could also spur global warming more in the long-term than some types of beef cattle farming if the world shunned a low-carbon path, said a 2019 study by the UK-based Oxford Martin School.
There is competition, too, from plant-based meat products, which are improving their ability to mimic the taste and texture of meat.
De Nood, a former McKinsey consultant, said Meatable's products are aimed at consumers who like meat but "are more and more uncomfortable with the way it is produced".
It is a sentiment de Nood is familiar with. "I've been eating less and less meat… but sometimes I just crave for a hamburger," he said, laughing.
The company is focusing on younger generations that feel strongly about climate change, he said, recalling a recent message he received from an investor.
It read, "My 13-year-old son has just given up beef as he has been reading about the impact of cows on climate change, and we've agreed his next steak will therefore have to be lab grown"."I think that's our target consumer right there," said de Nood.