Who needs animals for meat?

Written by:
Paul Shapiro
CEO and cofounder of The Better Meat Co, an acclaimed author and the host of the Business for Good Podcast

From agriculture to labriculture: Paul Shapiro is on the hunt for the Big Disconnect 

Author, clean meat revolutionary Paul Shapiro is convinced that the way we view and consume meat is about to change – for good. In his 2018 book, Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World he provides an intriguing roadmap to the future of food production.

According to Shapiro, there is an on-going race to create and commercialize cleaner, safer, sustainable meat without animals. The reason why we must break with animal-based meat production is clear: as global population and demand for meat grow hand in hand, there is an enormous toll placed on the planet, public health, and certainly the animals themselves.

Shapiro believes that clean meat – real, actual meat grown (or brewed, if you prefer) from animal cells – could be our ticket out of the looming dead-end. Or, alternatively, one can forget about animal cells altogether and build one’s beef from the molecule up. Whether you call it clean meat, lab-grown meat or cultured meat, the message is clear: there’s a big change cooking in the global meat production.

Must-Win Battles

Still, Shapiro acknowledges that clean meat doesn’t stand a chance unless it can win the consumers over. In order to do this, clean meat products must be able to check two crucial boxes.

“First of all, clean meat has to be extremely tasty. Secondly, it has to be inexpensive so that people can actually buy it,” he says.

Having made the rounds in the emerging clean meat industry, Shapiro says that there’s still a long way to go before those prerequisites are properly met. “There are already some excellent samples out there, but real meat grown from animal cells is still prohibitively expensive and not yet commercialized,” he admits.

Nevertheless, he believes that we’re mere years away from a big breakthrough:

“By 2025, I think there will be plant-based beef that is as cheap as meat-based, and we’ll start seeing the first clean meat grown from animal cells hitting the market too.” 

End the Dark Ages

Shapiro sees clean meat linking very strongly with the great theme of sustainability: governments around the world will, eventually, start to pay attention to the food print of what we eat.

“The planet will not be getting any bigger. We need 21st century solutions to deal with this issue, not 18th century solutions,” he says, calling for a move from agriculture to “labriculture”.

Accelerating this shift towards more sustainable food production can have other significant benefits, as well. After all, suspect food products of the notorious wet markets have shown the entire world the dangers inherent in the wrong kind of edibles.

“A lot of people are beginning to wake up to this new reality. Embracing plant-based eating, for example, will mean reduced risk of disease for humans, and cellular agriculture can be helpful too,” Shapiro says.

Taming the Cell

Shapiro talks about “second domestication”, a term he picked up from venture capitalist Seth Bannon, to describe what’s ahead. While our ancestors domesticated wild animals into livestock by breeding them over thousands and thousands of years, we are now beginning to domesticate the cells themselves – and a whole lot faster, one may add. Eventually, you could feed an entire village from one single cell of a cow.

“Domesticating the animal cells will result in a total food revolution,” he believes.

Shapiro, who turned forty last year, is a life-long animal rights activist who maintains that now is the best time in all of history to be born – if you’re a human, that is.

“For nearly any other species, it’s the worst time in history to be born,” he adds. Shapiro says that his motivation stems from the fact that we must change our destructive ways or face “living hell” on this planet.

Dinner Disruption

The frequent TEDx speaker remains optimistic, however. He points out that meat companies can reinvent themselves as protein companies and disruption can totally reshape our eating habits before we even know it.

“In the future to come, we may look back at these days and laugh: how on earth did we get stuck on the idea that you need animals to produce meat?”

Solar Foods is one of the most exciting food innovators that has popped up on Shapiro’s radar of late. He says he’s thrilled with the company’s efforts so far and can’t wait for the commercialization.

“I want to be among the very first customers to try the product,” he says.