If a delicious all-beef hamburger could be made by removing a few cells from a cow without killing or even hurting the animal, would you feel better about eating it? What if the cow was happy and roaming freely? Even a vegetarian might stop and consider if this was okay. This process is exactly what Mosa Meat — and at least 70 other brands working in the cellular agriculture realm — are doing.
Getting to know Mosa Meat
Future Mosa Meat founders got some acclaim in 2013 when they announced the first lab-created beef burger — at a cost of €250,000. Google cofounder Sergey Brin financed the mega-buck burger. Mosa Meat formed as a start-up company in 2016. Scientist and Cofounder Mark Post, Cofounder and COO Peter Verstrate and CEO Maarten Bosch now lead the approximately 100 Mosa employees.
“Our mission is to pioneer a cleaner, kinder way to make real beef, so that we can all continue to eat the meat we enjoy, but without the harmful effects of livestock meat production,” according to the Mosa Meat website.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations expects global meat demand to increase by 70% by 2050. Using current livestock practices, this would mean even huger amounts of methane warming the planet. Mosa wants to help solve the coming food crisis, combat climate change and spare animals from pain and suffering.
How do they do it?
It starts with cows roaming freely in fields. Under anesthesia, a technician removes a peppercorn-sized sample from an especially healthy looking cow. This one sample can supply 80,000 burgers.
In the lab, the cow cells combines with nutrients, vitamins and fresh air in a carefully controlled climate. Mosa’s growth medium is free of animal components. The fibers from a single cow cell sample grow into 800 million strands of tissue.
“By allowing nature to take its course, the cells we started with grow to become fully fledged muscle and fat — just like they would inside a cow. And with enough care and attention, our meat soon reaches maturity,” according to Mosa’s website. Then it’s grill time.
Is the dining world ready?
This isn’t a bean patty — it’s a real burger. Under a microscope, you can’t tell the difference between the lab-grown patty and the flesh of a slaughtered cow. “We have taken on the tough challenge of growing fully developed muscle and fat,” a Mosa spokesperson told me via email. “A burger that hardcore carnivores would be happy to eat because it is the same beef they love produced in a kinder, cleaner way.”
Will cellular agriculture really catch on? Or will this be a product uniquely suited to grossing out both vegans and meat eaters?
I asked my vegan stylist in my vegan hair salon whether she’d eat a burger made from cow cells if the animal was unharmed. “You mean meat from a petri dish?” she asked. “No way!” She thought meat eaters would also find this unsettling.
But Mosa Meat is optimistic, while admitting that the level of consumer acceptance is still unknown. Surveys conducted in European countries have shown diverging results, with as few as 20% and as many as 90% of respondents saying they were willing to try cultured meat. Mosa insists that even 20% is an enormous potential market, and that if the product is high quality and competitively priced, it will attract consumers. A Mosa spokesperson mentioned being very encouraged by one study showing that 88% of Gen Z consumers, 85% of Millennials, 77% of Gen X and 72% of Baby Boomers say they are open to trying cultivated meat.
And you still have a couple of years to prepare. Between scientific unknowns and regulatory issues, the rollout will be small-scale and not for a while.
“The European Union has indicated that it intends to regulate cultivated meat as a ‘novel food’ and will require a thorough food safety review by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and then authorization by the European Commission,” said the Mosa spokesperson. It will be a few more years after the initial small-scale introduction before Mosa Meat is widely available in supermarkets and restaurants.
It’s always nice to have influencers on your side. And Mosa has Leonardo DiCaprio. Last year, the environmental activist/actor invested in both Mosa Meat and Aleph Farms, an innovator in cultivated steak and ribeye.
“One of the most impactful ways to combat the climate crisis is to transform our food system,” DiCaprio said in a statement. “Mosa Meat and Aleph Farms offer new ways to satisfy the world’s demand for beef, while solving some of the most pressing issues of current industrial beef production. I’m very pleased to join them as an advisor and investor, as they prepare to introduce cultivated beef to consumers.”
Images via Mosa Meat