For all of our lifetimes, food produced from cattle has fit into one of two categories: meat (beef) or milk.
Meat has been important in the story of human beings for millions of years. It was instrumental in the development of our species – without B12 and other vitamins from meat, our ancestors would not have undergone the increased brain size necessary to be called Homo Sapiens, Latin for “wise man.”
Cow milk is certainly more recent than beef and other kinds of meat, but its impact over the last six to seven thousand years is no less important. Dairy is associated with an early marker of human society – the domestication of animals, and by extension, the very structure of modern civilization.
Beef, Milk, and Limited Scalability
Beef and milk are both quality sources of protein and cultural staples for human beings, but large-scale cattle raising and feed production are associated with significant greenhouse gas emissions (especially methane), soil degradation, deforestation, the loss of biodiversity, and the depletion of water sources, all while climate change is putting conventional agriculture practices at risk. Cattle are particularly inefficient at turning calories into protein: Approximately 25 calories of feed are required to produce just a single calorie of cow meat.
What’s more, in order to maximize output, animal production has become increasingly concentrated in terms of geography, species, and supply chains, to a point where it is singular and fragile. As a result, when something unexpected happens, such as a war, global health crisis or natural disaster, prices soar and people struggle to access the nutrition they need. Demand for protein is on the rise, so it’s no surprise that meat causes more inflation-focused fear than any other food category.
The kind of livestock farming that produced food for the planet’s 1.6 billion people at the turn of the twentieth century cannot sustainably scale to feed today’s population of 8 billion, and certainly not more than that as the human population continues to rise. For us to enjoy secure and sustainable food systems, animal agriculture cannot rely solely on conventional production. Incorporating complementary methods can reduce the pressure on livestock by enabling fewer and better managed animals. This would solve the inherent conflict between scale and sustainability.
With the appropriate policies, it is possible to drive a just and inclusive transition within agriculture, one that optimizes food system outcomes for all stakeholders, including and especially livestock farmers.
Cellular Agriculture Is the Next Big Leap
Animal agriculture began thousands of years ago when people started observing and replicating natural phenomena (animal growth and reproduction) under controlled conditions in the pasture. Cellular agriculture continues this tradition at the level of cells – the building blocks of life. Instead of domesticating an entire animal by nurturing it in a pasture, cellular agriculture domesticates animal cells by nurturing them in a cultivator.
Just as beef shaped our evolution as a species and milk influenced our progress as a civilization, a new category of food products from cattle – the cow cell itself – stands to have a monumental impact on how we adapt to our own increased presence and effect on the planet.
The Animal Cell’s Role as a Complementary Protein
Unlike meat, a cell doesn’t need to be harvested from a slaughtered animal. Unlike dairy, it can replicate outside the body of a living animal. When allowed to proliferate and mature in a cultivator with only the resources it needs, an animal cell can enable high-quality nutrition that is accessible regardless of climate conditions or availability of local land and water. This improves sustainability and food security (that is, reliable access to quality nutrition) across our food systems. When production via the animal cell supplements conventional methods, food systems can meet demand with fewer and better managed animals, enabling us to access adequate nutrition while staying within our planetary boundaries.
Just as milk can be used to make a variety of items, like many different kinds of yogurt, cheese and butter, cow cells can serve as the basis for many new items, including cultivated beef. To put it another way: cultivated beef is an application of the cow cell.
Cultivated Beef as One Application of the Cow Cell
Unlike conventional meat, there is no slaughter involved, and unlike plant-based meat, it includes real animal protein – promising a high nutritional, culinary and sensory quality with no need for intensive processing.
According to a life cycle analysis by CE Delft, when cultivated beef is produced at scale with the use of renewable energy, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions decrease 92%, 90% less land is used, and there is a 94% reduction in pollution, as compared to intensive, Western European beef production. It also solves animal protein’s efficiency problem. As opposed to the 15-30 months it takes to bring cattle to the ideal age for slaughter (after which only 30-35% of any cow is eaten), cow cells can be grown directly into high-quality food items in a matter of weeks and with incredible precision. There’s no need to pour in extra natural resources to get the desired output in high-quality protein.
In addition, cultivated beef is made in closed systems. This means that production can be decentralized and take place geographically close to consumption, including places where raising cattle is not feasible. By diversifying food supply with a short and predictable value chain, it significantly reduces susceptibility to shocks. As a result, cultivated beef can serve as an anchor for prices in the long term, enabling a more stable supply of cow protein to diners, even amidst fluctuating markets and rising demand. It empowers communities, countries and regions to access adequate, locally-produced nutrition and spur economic growth.
In regard to climate change, cultivated beef and other kinds of cultivated meat are important in two very different ways: First, to mitigate further damage to the climate, it provides high-quality protein with negligible emissions. Second, to adapt to the effects of climate change that has already taken place, its production is both less reliant on specific climate conditions and more resistant to extreme climate events.
Aleph Cuts: The World’s First Cultivated Steak Offering
The whole Aleph Farms team is proud to introduce its premier product line, Aleph Cuts – the world’s first cultivated beef steaks. Grown with cells of a premium Angus cow, they will connect diners to our incredible ‘new take on steak’ in a fresh, genuine way. Aleph Cuts have been crafted with care to deliver a unique experience and represent an exciting new choice for diners worldwide. We can’t wait for you to try them! Bon Appétit.