Meat lovers, take note! It looks like cultivated meat might no longer be just a pipe dream. A local cultivated meat company has just unveiled Africa’s first cultivated beef burger made from lab meat.
The first company of its kind in Africa, Mzansi Meats Co. showcased its burger at a bespoke event in Cape Town. Now that the first burger has been developed, Mzansi Meat Co’s next step is scaling up, co-founder, Brett Thompson says.
“Cellular agriculture wasn’t an industry in Africa until Mzansi was born. Our burger is only the beginning, we now know it’s possible and the next step is scaling up,” he says. “It starts with one small beef burger and we aim to be producing tons of cultivated meat every month in the future.”
But what is cultivated meat even?
Cultivated meat (or “clean meat”) has emerged as an industry aimed at disrupting conventional ways of producing animal products with the goal of reducing the number of animals killed for food as well as creating a more sustainable and ethical global food system.
Thompson tells Food For Mzansi, that cultivated meat could be a game changer in the global food industry.
“We were looking at ways to reduce suffering and getting animals out of intensified food systems. We think cell-ag or cultivated meat is a possible solution for that. Other people would suggest that maybe it is better for the environment. You’re going to be using less inputs, less resources and less land, which is a very topical conversation in our country.”
How cultivated meat is produced
The journey of cultivated meats begins at a local farm where veterinarians remove tiny tissue cells from donor animals. Once the cells are harvested, a sample is placed in a nutrient-rich transport medium and taken to the Mzansi Meat Co. lab where they isolate the cells and grow them in a culture medium.
This is a special type of food containing vitamins, salts and proteins that the cells need to develop and divide. Once scientists have enough cells, they place them on an edible structure and after adding a few additional spices and flavours.
“We’re working on plans to scale up and move into a pilot production facility as well as a rollout plan with retailers and restaurant partners,” says Mzansi Meat Co. CFO Tasneem Karodia. “Next up we’re developing sausages to go with the burger and our goal is to produce meat that can be used in traditional African cuisine.”
What about plant lovers?
There has been an increase in the marketing of processed meat alternatives including plant-based burger patties, sausages and nuggets. But are they really as safe and nutritious as they are advertised? asks researcher Dr Diana Bogueva.
In a recent study published in Food Safety, researchers from the University of Sydney and University of Massachusetts analysed the nutritional and safety profile of plant-based meat alternatives, such as burgers, sausages and nuggets.
There were several potential challenges associated with food safety and nutrition including the contamination of ingredients, Bogueva and colleagues note.
“It has been estimated that if highest-income nations adopted a more plant-centric diet, it could cut greenhouse emissions by around 61% – potentially freeing up land currently used for livestock for carbon sequestration, and saving huge swathes of forest at risk of land clearing,” says Bogueva.
Are alternatives a step in the right direction?
Researchers believe that plant-based alternatives are the right direction for minimising climate change, carbon footprints and land clearing, but there it is the responsibility of commercial manufacturers to develop alternatives that do not compromise nutrition, says Bogueva.
“Plant-based meat alternatives are a large and growing commercial industry. It’s important that issues like food additives, the introduction of new allergens, as well as potential reductions in food quality, are all considered when designing the next generation of plant-based foods. Plant-based diets need to be safe and nutritious, while also being good for the environment,” she explains.
Dr Julian McClements from the University of Massachusetts adds, “Many manufacturers in the plant-based food industry are currently working on improving the healthiness and safety of their products using modern food science approaches.”