Here’s why 3D printed meats could be the answer to food sustainability
3D printing has already made its way into major industries worldwide, but did you know it is also transforming the food industry? You’ve probably heard of plant-based meat, like the Impossible burger, but 3D-printed meat may sound like something from a sci-fi movie or an early April Fools’ Day joke, but it’s neither. The concept has become a reality, with multiple startups scaling the production of 3D-printed meat products.
What is 3D printed meat?
The process uses stem cells from a cow or chicken egg to make cell-grown meat. The animals involved are humanely treated and anesthetized throughout the procedure. Once it develops into edible tissue, a 3D printer will be used to “print” the digital meat, which looks similar to the meat we consume. Read on to learn more about the digital meat trend as well as the benefits and challenges of this technology!
The rise of digital meat
Many countries see rising demand for plant-based or vegan meat alternatives for health and sustainability concerns. According to a Gallup study, 41 percent of Americans have tried plant-based meats and 60 percent of those respondents say they were likely to continue eating them. To keep up with the booming needs of consumers, startups are considering 3D-printed meat.
Israel-based startup Redefine Meat has developed an industrial-grade 3D printing process for food that replicates beef and other high-value meat products’ texture, flavor and eating experience without using animals or animal products. The startup uses plant-based components and technology rather than animals, resulting in a far more efficient, sustainable, and ethical way to create meat without compromising on quality. The startup claims that the alternative meat produced is 95% more sustainable, significantly healthier and costs less than beef.
California-based food-technology startup Memphis Meats has also taken strides in developing 3D-printed meat products. The company has successfully produced cell-based meat products without using slaughterhouses. The startup claims that its meat products are healthier than traditional meat products, as they contain significantly less fat and cholesterol. The startup introduced the world’s first cell-based meatball in February 2016 and the world’s first cell-based poultry in March 2017.
3D meat vs. traditional meat
The global livestock industry is one of the most significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, with beef production as the leading culprit. 3D printed meat could significantly reduce the environmental impact of meat consumption. The technology can help us save water, land and energy that would otherwise be used in traditional animal agriculture. It also eliminates the need for antibiotics in meat production. Sub-therapeutic (a lower dosage than the usual prescription) antibiotic usage in rearing animals poses a health risk for humans and animals because it promotes resistance against antibiotics and hence drug-resistant infections or diseases.
3D-printed meat may sound promising for a sustainable future, but it is still a few years away from being commercially viable. A few challenges need to be addressed before this technology can be utilized on a larger scale. One of the most significant challenges is the cost of production. The materials and equipment required for 3D-printing meat are expensive, and the process is still in its early stages of development.
Another challenge with 3D printing is energy usage. Research by Loughborough University points out that 3D printing technology uses around 50 to 100 times more energy than conventional food production techniques.
The global meat market is rising, with demand leading to unsustainable practices. According to a forecast compiled by Blue Horizon Corp, the lab-grown meat market is projected to reach US$140 billion by 2030.
Growing consumer awareness about the harmful effects of traditional meat production has led entrepreneurs to explore sustainable ways to produce meat without causing harm to animals and the environment. Without doubt, the development of sustainable food tech, like digital meat, will revolutionize the food industry.
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