Would You Eat Lab-Grown Steak?
Picture this: You sit down at a restaurant, order a steak, and your server asks “would you like that farm-raised or lab-grown?” You may have to make this decision as early as 2021 thanks to Israeli food-tech startup Aleph Farms. They’re aiming to have their cultured meat product called Minute Steak in select restaurants by then.
This announcement is one among many in the field of lab-grown meat, also known as cultured meat, clean meat, alt-meat, and in-vitro meat. Currently, 25 companies are in the running to culture beef, chicken and seafood for human and animal consumption. So far, Aleph Farms is the only contender promising steak.
The meat is cultured from cells taken from a cow, using a 3D tissue engineering platform. The company was founded in 2017 and in May 2019 announced a US$12M funding round led by Vis Vires New Protein who have raised over $200M for sustainable ‘new protein’ and start-ups revolutionizing our food system.
Why lab-grown steak?
Growing meat in a lab is simply more sustainable and more humane. Instead of raising livestock for slaughter then taking the desirable portions, scientists grow only what is needed from stem cells. Since there is no butchering, we can likely expect to learn a new way to express what “cut” of steak we’d like. This seems like a small exchange to reduce the 18% of greenhouse gasses produced by agriculture, 30% of land that livestock occupy, and the 1,800 gallons of water required to produce one pound of beef.
It’s easy to see the impact of choosing lab-grown meat over traditional farming when considering the significantly shortened production time, with Aleph claiming a steak can be produced in just three weeks.
Image: Aleph Farms
We may not choose lab-grown steak for the planet.
In an ideal world, environmental benefits alone would be enough to lead the masses to lab-grown meat. According to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2019 Food & Health survey, sustainability is a growing concern for consumers, but taste and price are the top drivers of food purchases. Interestingly, these may be the points that win eaters over on lab-grown steak.
Will lab-grown steak taste like steak?
After Minute Steak, Aleph Farms plans to roll out a thick steak. This will have “the properties that we like and we all know,” Aleph Farms vice president for research and development Neta Levon told the World Economic Forum.
But will the flavor please those who obsess over marbling, texture and flavor variations of farm-raised cuts? On the Aleph Farms website, a photo of cattle grazing pairs with their seal for "Slaughter-Free Steaks" and "Real Bovine Meat." Based on their current marketing material, it's unclear if their steak will mimic grass-fed or grain-fed beef flavor, or if they'll specify this at all.
How much will lab-grown steak cost?
You may have heard that the first lab-grown hamburger had a hefty price tag of $330,000 in 2013. As technology advances, the price of culturing meat decreases significantly. Today a serving of Minute Steak would cost you about $50. By 2023, Aleph Farms hopes to reach a price point that’s comfortable for consumers as they roll out steak products in restaurants and grocery stores.
Raw opinions aren't everything.
When asked if she would try lab-grown steak, a farm-to-table restaurant server said “personally, I think it’s gross.” Another consumer who leans toward a paleo diet said “I actually would prefer to hunt my own meat.” A vegetarian explained, “I don’t eat flesh, so why would I want a steak?”
These gut reactions don't represent the 40% of Americans who say they'd try lab-grown meat. They also aren't a substitute for the real-time decision that gets made when a juicy steak shows up on your table. Add on an attractive price and mouth-watering flavor, and it might turn that "no way" into an "okay."
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