Peter Verstrate peers into the future of your food.
The world’s first lab-grown burger hit the grill in London in 2013.
This succulent pattie was made from 10,000 lithe strips of muscle, each grown individually by a company called Mosa Meat at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
It might sound strange, but lab-grown meat makes economic, environmental, and even public health sense – and, in just a few years it’s going to hit the supermarket shelf.
“Mosa Meat is part of humanity evolving.”
We can hear the meat-lovers caterwauling already, but as a meat-eater himself, who’s spent a decade working at the Dutch meats brand Stegemen – Verstrate ‘gets’ the appeal of meat.
“The magic of meat, is the essence of why meat alternatives don’t catch on,” he explains.
Veggie sausages, or quorn mince, aren’t winning over enough appetites, while meat withstands scandal after scandal.
“If these scandals had happened with peanut butter, there wouldn’t be peanut butter on the shelves in any supermarket anymore. But meat just bounces back again.”
“There’s something in it that attracts us … it’s a sort of fatal attraction.”
The answer, he believes, is not to try to ‘mimic’ the magic appeal of meat at all.
“What you need to replace meat in our mind, is meat,” he says. “We run the same process that go on in an animal when it makes meat, we just do it outside of the animal.”
“Once you succeed in producing meat in this affordable way, there’s not a single reason to argue against it,” he adds. “It just ticks all the boxes.”
A lot of Mosa Meat investors are driven towards the company for animal rights reasons – to counter cruel farming methods, and put an end to killing animals full stop.
But sustainability, and more specifically, the contribution to global warming and climate change, is also an important driver.
(A typical cow releases 100 kilograms of methane a year and the world has about a billion of them, while feeding cattle destroys forests by taking land for pasture or to grow feed).
The other issue for Mosa Meat is food security: “In the US alone, twice as many people die from e-coli each year, as the number of people who died in the 9/11 attacks,” says Verstrate.
Growing meat in a sterile lab environment, however, not only cuts back on contamination, but means no antibiotics are required – a shift that could help curb global health problems around antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’.
Together, these benefits are even causing the broader meat industry to reflect, says Verstrate.
“They’re seeing that what they’re doing now – producing meat – is not sustainable, and it will not last,” he explains.
“It will last the next 5 years, or maybe 10, or maybe 15 [but] they realise that this technology might be part of their future.”
In terms of bringing lab-grown burgers to the masses, Verstrate describes the Mosa Meat pattie of 2013 as a prototype, rather than a finished product.
“We need to work on some aspects of the product: on creating fat tissue, on the colour, on the food we give to the cells,” he explains.
It will be another a year and a half, he predicts, until you will be able to enjoy a Mosa Meat burger of your own.
Verstrate however points to other companies like Memphis Meats, who’ve shown off lab-grown chicken strips and pork meatballs, as examples of how the industry will grow.
“In the future, for us, it will just make no sense to choose an animal-derived product when this product is available,” says Verstrate.
Are you ready to chow down on some delicious lab-grown beef?