Innovators such as Aleph Farms could change the meat industry for good: Your steak can now be grown in a lab — offering the same texture and taste of a conventional steak, without the environmental and ethical consequences.
With global meat consumption expected to rise annually through to 2023, the world is faced with a dilemma — food production is responsible for 26 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions; 50 percent of the world's habitable land is used for agriculture; and 80 percent of this agricultural land is used for livestock. However, collectively, livestock accounts for less than 20 percent of the world’s calories.
And the immense environmental consequences of raising this livestock are well-documented. The industrial meat industry is a major contributor to climate change, water pollution, deforestation, forest fires, loss of biodiversity, acid rain, human rights abuses, and land grabbing. The intensive farming practices are having a global impact, with beef as one of the biggest offenders; per kilogram of beef is responsible for 60kgs of greenhouse gases and requires 900 gallons of water to produce.
With the demand for meat not slowing down, innovators and scientists around the world have been working to create delicious alternatives without the harsh environmental impacts. The exploding market for plant-based protein alternatives is a promising development, but there remains a need for additional, sustainable meat sources that can satisfy the world’s appetite.
Enter Aleph Farms: The Israeli startup has teamed up with the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and created the world’s first cultivated, slaughter-free ribeye steak — 3D-bioprinted with live cultured animal tissue.
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“We assemble a whole, muscle-cut steak from the bottom up. It is assembled outside of the animal, replicating its natural building blocks using different types of living animal cells,” Aleph co-founder and CEO Didier Toubia told Sustainable Brands™. “We use non-GMO and non-immortalized cells. The 3D-bioprinted tissue is then incubated, where the cells develop and interact in a similar manner as in nature — granting the tissue the texture and qualities of a ‘real’ steak.”
With Aleph’s technology, people can have a steak that satisfies their desire for meat without the harsh environmental impacts or associated animal exploitation.
In and of itself, lab-grown meat is not a new idea: Like US-based tech darlings Upside Foods (fka Memphis Meats) and other “clean meat” producers, Aleph starts with cells taken from an animal biopsy and grows them in a controlled laboratory setting; but unlike its competitors (Upside’s lab-grown chicken, for example, reportedly lacks the textural variation of conventionally raised chicken), Aleph’s proprietary process grows all parts of meat — muscle, fat, blood vessels and connective tissue — to provide a 'free-range' taste and texture: “We have been successful in forming a structure which functions like the vascular system occurring naturally in tissues,” Toubia explained, “to enable the perfusion of nutrients across the thicker tissue, granting the steak the similar shape and structure of its native form as found in livestock.”
Aleph’s method of cultivation requires a fraction of the time needed to grow conventional meat, with a fraction of the resources. The company aims to build a diversified portfolio of cultivated meat products to address the range of consumer preferences in various food cultures around the world.
Moving away from conventional meat production is an essential step if we are to minimize human impacts on the planet. Several LCA analyses demonstrate the cultivated meat industry’s potential to substantially lower greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce land use by more than 90 percent and water use more than 50 percent. And, while the energy input of cultivated meat production is considered moderate, a recent LCA conducted by CE Delft projected that if production is powered by 100 percent renewable energy, cultivated meat can reduce the carbon footprint of beef production by 92 percent.
Aleph Farms promises more than the environmental advantages of cultivated meat — it is also currently the only company in this emerging industry to commit to carbon-neutral production by 2025, and carbon neutrality of its entire supply chain by 2030.
In a recent study, strategy and management consulting firm AT Kearney predicted that by 2040, 35 percent of all meat consumed worldwide will be cell-based. But in the meantime, the fledgling industry would be hard-pressed to meet global market demand. Toubia says Aleph has developed five unique technologies that will contribute to a proprietary, large-scale production process:
“This process consumes only a fraction of the time and resources required for conventional meat production. Conducted under controlled conditions, it eliminates the need for antibiotics. It also reduces the timeline of farm to fork to three weeks, as compared with an average of two years using conventional methods of growing meat. This sharp cut in product supply timeline offers the market a tremendous advantage in flexibility to adapt to market needs, especially in times of crisis. It can be a major stepping stone towards a more resilient supply chain and safer standards within the meat sector.”
Meanwhile, cell-based meat innovators have recently made technical and regulatory strides that bring them closer to successful market penetration — including Aleph: “We’ve been interacting with the USDA and FDA for the past three years and believe that the US will be one of the first countries to clear cultivated meat for marketing,” Toubia says.
With a number of cell-based meat companies close to launching products, the market is germinating. Another Israeli firm, Future Meat Technologies, is on the verge of releasing an affordable, cell-based chicken breast. And although there is no set regulatory framework for cell-based meat in the US, many companies say they expect to be able to get products on the market relatively soon: According to Food Dive, Eat Just, cell-based seafood maker BlueNalu and Upside are among those that say they are close to launching products.
In the meantime, Aleph Farms is building a pilot plant called the BioFarm™ in Israel, which Toubia says will be operational by the end of 2022; Aleph aims to launch its first product, a thin-cut beef steak, later that year.
“Cultivated meat isn’t a long-term vision anymore, but rather a practical solution to some of our most urgent issues today associated with food production,” Toubia asserts. “This milestone represents the ongoing process of bringing cultivated meat products to global markets.”
Through the collaboration of science and technology, cell-based meat innovators such as Aleph Farms offer our land and animals a break from years of exploitation and abuse, whilst still satisfying a market that will likely remain hungry for decades to come.