This announcement by Aleph Farms is an important milestone in the world of cellular meat production.
The first lab-grown steak has been served up in Israel. Made from cells that were isolated from a cow and grown into a 3-D structure, the steak's creator, Aleph Farms, says it represents a benchmark in cellular meat production.
In a world where industrial farming is increasingly under scrutiny for its ethical and environmental repercussions, this announcement is meaningful. Other companies are part of the race to produce lab-grown meat, but usually in unstructured formats – burger patties and chicken nuggets. Aleph Farms' creation of an actual steak is ambitious and impressive.The steak is said to have the same texture as conventional meat, and it gives off that familiar beef smell when cooking, but its creators say they have to work on refining the taste and thickness. Right now the steak is only 5 mm thick.
The prototype costs $50 for a small strip, but according to Didier Toubia, co-founder and CEO at Aleph Farms, this is good, considering that the first lab-grown beef burger in 2013 cost €250,000 (US $283,500). As Toubia told the Guardian, "The cost would come down as the production process was moved from the lab to a scalable commercial facility." The steak, however, will likely not become commercially available for another three to four years.
Aleph Farms boasts an animal-free serum that is used to feed and grow the cells that have been extracted harmlessly from a live animal. Normally, foetal bovine serum, derived from calf blood, is used to feed lab-grown meats, but this has obvious complications when the purpose of growing meat in laboratories is to move away from a reliance on factory farming.
Lab-grown meats are a fascinating alternative to animal-sourced meats. Toubia believes that products like Aleph Meats' steak can help bridge the divide between people who are unwilling to give up meat entirely and the need to reduce global meat consumption in the fight against climate change. "Today, over 90 percent of consumers do eat meat and we think the percentage of vegetarians will not grow significantly despite many launches of plant-based products."
Not everyone thinks it's a magic bullet solution. The Guardian quotes Louise Davies of the UK's Vegan Society, who says,
"We recognise the potential that lab-grown meat can have in reducing animal suffering and the environmental impact of animal agriculture. But whilst these products include starter cells derived from animals, they aren’t vegan."
I think, though, that much as the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger meat substitutes have caught on like wildfire, so would lab-grown meat. There are many people who do not identify as vegan and do not want to change their diets overly much; for these individuals, the prospect of greener meat alternatives is highly appealing. It remains to be seen what effect lab-grown steaks can have on the world, and we'll be keeping an eye on what's sizzling over at Aleph Farms.