How sustainable is cultivated meat?
In April 2022, Mzansi Meat unveiled Africa’s first cultivated beef burger. It’s been a long time coming. 18 months of research and development, countless trial and error experiments… but here you have it: a juicy burger not carved from the rump of a cow but created under lab conditions in Woodstock, Cape Town.
Two months ago, Tasneem Karodia, COO and co-founder of Mzansi Meat, ate her first beef meatball in over a decade. She is a long-standing advocate for plant-based diets in response to the severe negative effects of large-scale animal agriculture, and her involvement with Mzansi Meat came from a fortuitous Webinar, which saw her later joining forces with her co-founder and CEO Brett Thompson. Now they’re spearheading the change with the first cultivated beef in Africa.
But how does it all work? Well, science. A small biopsy is taken from the animal in the most harmless way possible, which allows the animal to get back on its feet within an hour of the procedure. The cells are then placed in a controlled lab environment, fed the necessary amino acids and sugars any animal needs to survive, and kept at a mammalian body temperature of 37 degrees Celsius. The rest is pretty simple. These cells are then placed in a cultivator – think a steel brewing vat – provided with a structural scaffold, and they grow.
The first cultivated beef burger was produced in the Netherlands in 2013 with a whopping USD 250 000 price tag. The industry has come a long way since. In 2015 about 25 different companies were actively cultivating meat. Cut to 2022, and there are over 100 businesses and labs working away at making it an accessible product.
But what is the economic and social reality of moving towards cultivated meat in the name of sustainability?
Within a South African context, meat is a predominantly culturally ingrained aspect of our diets. Meat alternatives might be becoming more accessible, but they still have drawbacks in terms of expense and processing. One could argue that by virtue of giving up meat, one wouldn’t need to source direct alternatives. But the reality is people want the options.
The goal is to have Mzansi Meat on major retailer shelves by 2024, but it’s likely to come with a high price tag. It will take about a decade for cultivated meat to become fully economically accessible and sell at a competitive price.
Products like burgers, braai worse, and shisanyama will be the first to roll out, in order to appeal to the local market through relatable options. According to a survey Mzansi Meat rolled out last year, 52 percent of South Africans would be open to eating cultivated meat. Are you among them?