'We can produce up to 10,000 cows’ worth of meat with a single biopsy'

Memphis Meats: ‘What’s common in Silicon Valley is that you move fast and break things, but that's an awful way to approach making food’

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

CEO Dr Uma Valeti (center) and CSO Nicholas Genovese (right) test Memphis Meats' latest innovations
CEO Dr Uma Valeti (center) and CSO Nicholas Genovese (right) test Memphis Meats' latest innovations

Related tags Memphis meats Clean meat cultured meat

Excitement is building as cultured meat approaches commercialization, but “science does not occur in a cultural vacuum” and bringing consumers and regulators with you on the journey is more important than being first to market, says clean meat start-up Memphis Meats.

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after filing comments with the USDA about clean meat labeling​ this week, Memphis Meats​ CEO and co-founder Uma Valeti MD stressed: “We don’t want to rush, just to be first to market, we want to introduce products that are incredibly desirable, that we can feel really good about.”

Speaking at the American Conference Institute (ACI) food law conference​ in Chicago last week, Eric Schulze, PhD, VP of product and regulation at Memphis Meats, added: “What’s really important is that science does not occur in a cultural vacuum. We don’t know everything and we’re going to take our time​.

“What’s common in Silicon Valley is that you move fast and break things, but that is an awful way to approach making food. Consumers have an expectation that food is safe and so from a regulatory point of view we want to work with all stakeholders, all producers, everyone we can.”

We have had a lot of interest from foodservice

Asked about the timetable at Memphis Meats – which counts meat firms Cargill and Tyson Foods among its investors – Dr Valeti said he could not share a specific launch date (although the company has said it aims to reach price parity with conventional products by 2021 or sooner), but said there would be a premium attached to the first wave of clean meat products.

Asked whether the first wave would target the retail or foodservice market, he said: “We definitely have had a lot of interest from foodservice and a lot of chefs want to get their hands on our products and we see a benefit in getting it in the hands of people that are creative and experts in meat, so that’s a viable pathway, but it may be too early to say that’s the path we’ll go down first.”

Commercial scale production

Asked whether the company’s commercial scale production facilities would be built and funded in-house, or in partnership with a third party, he said:

We are definitely open to all these options but one of the things that is really important to me is to retain end-to-end control so we will have at the minimum, one scale up facility that Memphis Meats will completely own and operate, which could be the flagship where a lot of new products are developed and lots of testing will be happening.

“But certainly we will be open to other options where people can license or replicate it in their own region.”

Labeling and transparency

As for labeling (read more HERE​), while Memphis Meats believes that its products will meet regulatory definitions of ‘beef’ and ‘meat,’ the company will make it crystal clear on pack that animals were not raised or slaughtered to produce the meat question, he said.

“We will put that on the label.”

As for the wording that Memphis Meats might use on pack or in marketing materials to engage with consumers, he said, this has yet to be determined. “We’ll do consumer labeling exercises to see how can we best communicate that.”

Picture: Memphis Meats Duck à l'Orange

We’re offering consumers an additional choice

Stepping back a bit to look at clean meat in historical context, humans have been applying technology to increase the efficiency of commercial meat production for centuries, and cultured meat is in some respects the logical conclusion of that drive to efficiency, claimed Dr Schulze.

“In response to changing consumer preferences, the food and agriculture industry has consistently and reliably evolved and diversified processes and products… We are just offering consumers an additional choice that’s just as delicious as the best meat on the market today.”

 ‘We can produce up to 10,000 cows’ worth of meat with a single biopsy’

Animal welfare issues aside, said Dr Schulze, clean meat production is more efficient than raising and slaughtering animals: “Traditionally for a 1,200lb steer it takes about 18 months to grow and you’re only going to get about 450lbs of usable meat from that carcass.

“It takes a lot of calories to make one calorie of meat. Currently it takes about 23 calories to make one calorie of beef but most of those calories are lost as heat or expended in maintaining the animal’s bones, its brain and so on, which are calories we don’t care about because we want to grow meat, muscle tissue and fat.

“If you take a biopsy, feed the cells the same nutrients – sugars, vitamins, minerals and so on – that a cow would eat, instead of 18 months, in two weeks or less you can have as much meat as from that cow.

“We can produce up to 10,000 cows’ worth of meat with a single biopsy ​[of animal cells] and that’s a very conservative estimate… and we hope to be at cost parity with conventional products by 2021 or sooner.”

Foodborne illness and clean meat

But there are also sustainability and food safety benefits, he added: “It’s a 10X reduction in greenhouse gases and land use, and there are also foodborne pathogen considerations and spoilage considerations that are ameliorated.”

He went on to produce a slide showing three bacteriological plates – two with swabs from poultry products (one conventional, one organic) and one with swabs from Memphis Meats’ cultured (aka ‘clean’) poultry. The first two showed extensive bacterial growth (E coli and salmonella), while the ‘clean’ meat dish was clear. 

We cannot detect any bacteria in our products and if you don’t have that they don’t go bad as fast and if properly stored​, you have an indefinite storage period, which has huge implications for human health.”

“Two thirds of people we and others have surveyed say they would try clean meat if it was at price parity with conventional products.”

Food Vision 17-Liz-Specht

Speaking at FOOD VISION USA​​ last year​,​ Good Food Institute senior scientist Dr Liz Specht said cultured meat offered several advantages over traditional meat in that it does not contain bacterial pathogens that pose food safety risks; it has a longer shelf life; it will not suffer from price/supply volatility risks from animal infectious diseases (avian flu, porcine epidemic diarrheal virus); requires fewer inputs for a given quantity of meat, and is "more controllable and tunable​​,"​ enabling production of only high-grade meats in quantities dictated by consumer demand, rather than by the biology of the animal.

Picture: Memphis Meats meatball
Picture: Memphis Meats southern fried chicken

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