Will Your Next Burger Be Grown in a Lab?

I’m not a vegan, and I’m not a vegetarian. (Longtime readers know I love a good burger.)

Yet the unnecessary suffering that can happen in factory farming operations around the world might not be the most moral tack for an enlightened society.

Moreover, meat, pork and foul that’s born, raised and slaughtered for human consumption has also proven to come complete with a lot of serious concerns. These include foodborne illness, lack of efficient production and serious environmental damage.

Still, the human digestive system has evolved to efficiently ingest, digest and convert animal protein into energy.

And aside from just that scientific truth, eating steaks, burgers, pork chops, bacon, turkey, chicken, sausage, etc. just plain tastes great.

Yet what if you could create food products in a laboratory setting that eliminated all of the objections and side effects of raising and slaughtering animals for human consumption — yet that also tasted great, was affordable, sustainable and a healthier way to feed humanity?

Well, that’s precisely what several new high-tech food startups are on track to do.

And they might be able to do it much faster than anyone imagines.

I first heard about this issue via a recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled, "Sizzling Steaks May Soon Be Lab-Grown."

The article explained that right now, several startup ventures are vying to be among the first companies to bring laboratory-cultured meats from cattle and pigs onto consumers’ dinner plates.

According to the WSJ:

Memphis Meats Inc., a San Francisco company founded by three scientists, aims in three to four years to be the first to sell meat grown from animal cells in steel tanks. Rivals including Mosa Meat and Modern Meadow Inc. also aim to bring such "cultured meat" to market in the next several years.

Now, if this sounds like something you’d read about in a futuristic science-fiction novel, well, I agree.

Yet "growing" meat in steel tanks from existing animal cells is anything but fiction.

In fact, burgers have been essentially grown in a lab for years. A recent project funded by Google (GOOGL) co-founder Sergey Brin resulted in a well-known industry "taste test."

The results of the taste test were reportedly mixed. But they were encouraging enough for project scientist and physiologist Mark Post, co-founder of the aforementioned Mosa Meat, to continue full-speed ahead.

For companies on the cutting edge of the cultured meat business, their lofty goals are nothing short of societal game-changers.

As per the WSJ:

The startups’ lofty goal is to remake modern animal agriculture, which the United Nations estimates consumes one-third of the world’s grains, with about a quarter of all land used for grazing.

The companies say that growing meat with cells and bioreactors — similar to fermentors used to brew beer — consumes a fraction of the nutrients, creates far less waste and avoids the need for antibiotics and additives commonly used in meat production.

Memphis Meats co-founder and CEO Uma Valeti is a cardiologist and medical professor at the University of Minnesota. Valeti said he believes that, over the next two decades, the majority of meat sold in stores will be cultured and grown in these bioreactors.

While that’s certainly a bold and ambitious statement, it also deserves serious consideration.

Don’t just take it from me; take it also from the millions of dollars these startups have already attracted in their efforts to transform the meat production industry.

In the case of Memphis Meats, the company has received approximately $2 million in funding from venture-capital firms such as SOSV LLC and New Crop Capital.

Given the size and scope of the world’s global meat consumption, the profit potential here is enormous. Consider that in 2014, America alone spent some $186 billion on meat and poultry products.

So yes, breaking into this market could be gigantic.

***

Of course, Memphis Meats and its fellow startups still have to overcome some big hurdles.

First, I think they will have to persuade consumers that this meat is actual meat, and not some bizarre "Frankenfood" that just seems a bit too "creepy" for human ingestion.

To do this will require lucid explanations of the science involved, and a demystifying of sorts as to what the process entails.

In the case of Memphis Meats, scientists "grow" the meat via a process that isolates either cow or pig cells with the ability to renew themselves. The cells are then "fed" nutrients such as sugars, minerals and oxygen. After a process taking between nine days and about three weeks, you have essentially grown meat.

The moral element here is that the so-called "source" cells used to grow the meat are collected from animals without killing them.

The practical element here is that the meat grown by this process will not need to be pumped up with antibiotics, steroids or other harmful chemical growth agents.

Related story: New study proves organic meat is better for you

Moreover, the foodborne illnesses associated with slaughterhouses such as E. coli contamination also will be virtually eliminated.

Now, as you might expect given this industry is in its infancy, the real hurdle to overcome here is cost.

According to the WSJ:

Currently it costs about $18,000 to produce a pound of Memphis Meats’ ground beef, compared with about $4 a pound in U.S. grocery stores, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

An $18,000 burger? That’s a major cost hurdle to leap over, but it is one that I suspect could be achieved.

Certainly, Memphis Meats’ Valeti thinks it’s quite possible.

In a podcast interview with philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris, Valeti said:

The cost of producing naturally cultured meat we are talking about has plummeted over the last several years. We are now producing it for less than $40 per gram, and we plan to reduce this to just a few cents per gram over the next five years. While there may be a small price premium [to conventional meats] when we initially get out into the market, our goal is to reduce the cost enough to where they are on par with conventional meats — and we believe this will absolutely happen, because the current meat production techniques are inherently inefficient.

This kind of confidence from a scientist and CEO of a startup is what you want when you’re looking for unusual, and perhaps potentially very big, investment opportunities.

The bottom line here is that I will be watching the cultured meat industry closely going forward. I suspect it has the potential to be a game-changer for humanity — and possibly for investors.

***

What is your reaction to "cultured meats"? Is this something you would ever consider eating? Do you think this is an industry worth looking at for a potential investment? Are you excited and/or concerned with the ethical implications of reducing animal suffering?

I am really curious to find out what your opinions are on this fascinating subject, so let me know what you think by leaving me a comment on our website or by sending me an e-mail.

***

Stocks were down for the better part of the day. But then after oil managed to close slightly higher, eking out a 0.9% gain, the broader indexes surged. The S&P 500 ended the day 0.4% higher, after being down as much as 2.8% this morning.

Elsewhere in the news today:

•  Jamie Dimon might be sitting on a big loss in JPMorgan (JPM) shares. But at the company’s annual investor conference, he said he would buy JPM "all day long" even at $48. Shares are currently trading at $56.

•  It was a bright day for First Solar (FSLR). The stock soared 12.4% even after it reported slower sales in the fourth quarter and a mixed outlook for 2016. However, the sector got a boost today after the World Trade Organization ruled against India’s discrimination against solar imports.

•  Washington gridlock is good for stocks. And according to Debtwire’s 2016 Distressed Debt Market Outlook Survey, so is a Democrat in the nation’s highest office. The survey says that "Almost two-thirds of respondents (64%) say a Democratic president would benefit capital markets more than a Republican. And two-thirds of respondents (67%) perceive the economy to have better prospects if a Democrat is elected president."

•  Southwest Airlines (LUV) is giving Amazon (AMZN) some in-flight love. Passengers will be able to buy Wi-Fi, movies and more using their Amazon Payments accounts.

Good Luck and Happy Investing,

Brad Hoppmann

Publisher

Uncommon Wisdom Daily

Your thoughts on “Will Your Next Burger Be Grown in a Lab?”

  1. I think this might b game changer if they can convine te public of its goodness by tasre and affordabiliy. Thus is years down the road. It’s worth a try plus a competitor.

  2. At least 64% of all Americans are too stupid to be allowed to vote. Improved economy based on crony capitalism?

  3. While this is technologically very interesting, I have a number of concerns. First and foremost, what are the long term implications? This to me has many of the same concerns as GMOs. We are finding out that many of the supposed benefits of GMO crops are not there. An example is pest control. Many of the pests have now adapted to the GMO crops so they now want to use Roundup, which is based upon the same chemical as Agent Orange. Will these frankenburgers and frankenmeats have similar problems down the road?

    Another equally serious concern is that creatures evolve, and that includes us as well as our prey. Will these frankenfoods also evolve and if so, in what way or ways?

    Finally, many are rediscovering that “free range” foods taste better. They taste better because of what they eat. I don’t see how the lab wonks can ever realistically replicate all the natural variants of free range food, thus the food will not taste as good.

    Time will tell but I can tell you I will not be using these frankenfoods. I will let someone else see what the long term implications are. Also, I hope that the companies that produce this stuff will be required to label it as such and will not fight labeling as the GMO companies are doing. Sadly, I feel our politicians will be bought off and prevent labeling requirements.

  4. OMG! Can’t believe this. They have destroyed our wheat and corn in the name of making it better but the only thing they have accomplished is making their wallets fat. Oh but on the other hand they have made all of us fat and sick so you can say that is an accomplishment to. This is just sickening!!

  5. Bring it on!!! I hate the risks I take eating that stuff from Winn Dixie stores. If it is even close to regular prices, I am for it. I am NOT a Peta person but eliminating all that killing, death, blood, pain , etc. is a plus.

  6. Almost all for it. Naturally, I have some reservations, it is a new technology that is bound to have significant hurdles in transitioning from lab to production. The same hurdles that making beer or biscuits have when going from the individual to the mass market.

    If the process is economically viable, it will happen. Some people will argue it is the coming of the anti-Christ, others will say it is the savior of the environment. The latter group will buy it, eat it, live to tell about it, and gradually will gain acceptance.

    My grandparents said they would never allow a telephone in their home – too intrusive. A whole generation said they would never have a telephone answering machine – too impersonal. This “frankenfood” will be the same. The arguments about it not being natural will go in the dustbin along with all such arguments. If it works and makes money, it will sell.

    Taste? McDonald’s sells billions of burgers. I don’t think they taste very good. Hundreds of millions of Asians pour rotted, fermented fish turned into sauce on their food every day. I don’t think it tastes very good – they love it. Within a very wide range what we think tastes good is based on what we are used to and more importantly, what we grow up with.

    I’m sure my household will try it – “Why not?” will be the attitude.

  7. This is another unnatural food just as GMO food. Long term studies have shown that GMO food is harmful to your health and I suspect that this will also be harmful to your health. The GMO industry however wants to do short term studies before determinable effects can be observed and claim that GMO is safe. If one wants to know the true story about GMO foods, they should read the book “Altered Genes Twisted Truth”. It sounds like this is another industry that is trying to do the same thing as GMO food has done, produce an inferior unhealthy product, claim it is safe, and suppress all labeling requirements for the sake of control and money.

    1. You are right Richard. You have to read uncontrolled independent studies of this new strange food. If GMO’s were so good for you then why is it that they do not want to label it ? Why are they spending million’s in lobbying (BRIBE) to get it to your table without you knowing what you are eating ? I prefer meat from a private owners Ranch or Farm.

  8. Well if you want meat to be produced in an artifical environment then there will be no need for the animals that produce meat. It sounds like a great way to reduce the number of animals we have in this world.

  9. I don’t get why people think all meat is full of antibiotics, I raise beef cattle and we never give them any antibiotics unless they get sick, which is very seldom. We always mark them if we give them any antibiotic shots. We don’t feed antibiotics unless they are in a stressful situation such as weaning which only lasts for three days. If you want antibiotic free meat just contact me.

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Brad Hoppmann originally grew up in Florida, but has lived in Baltimore, Charlotte and New York as well throughout his career. Always an athlete, he played varsity football and water polo at the University of Florida and received All-SEC/SCC honors.