In August, Richard Branson wrote a post on the Virgin website about his investment in Memphis Meats, which expressed his vision about the future of food: “I believe that in 30 years or so we will no longer need to kill any animals and that all meat will either be clean or plant-based, taste the same and also be much healthier for everyone. One day we will look back and think how archaic our grandparents were in killing animals for food.”
Branson is one of several influential thinkers investing in a cruelty-free, sustainable food system. While these thinkers reached their decisions through different means, in the end they all seem to agree that diets that rely on animal meat are less healthy and unsustainable — and that as our planet changes, our habits will too. Their bottom line is that it’s time to support companies using technology to satisfy human culinary cravings without killing animals, thereby saving the environment in the process.
Branson along with Bill Gates, Cargill, and Kimball Musk, backed the Memphis Meats clean-meat startup in its $17 million Series A round, which went on to raise in excess of $22 million. Memphis Meats will join a cadre of sustainable food businesses such as the three Israeli companies — Meat the Future, Future Meat Technologies, and SuperMeat — which will supply food to China as part of a $300 million deal. Branson, who gave up meat in 2014, appears to be investing in alignment with his beliefs and predictions about the future, all while trying to act against the deforestation caused by agribusiness; a known contributing factor to climate change.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states that livestock feed production consumes 26 percent Earth’s ice-free land, while 13 billion hectares (32.1 billion acres) of forest are destroyed for use as croplands or pastures each year. According to the WorldWatch Institute, 51 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture. Those emissions, and the harm associated with them, would be eliminated by choosing lab-grown meats rather than killing animals for food.
It’s also been asserted that lab-grown meat is healthier than the real thing: it’s free of antibiotics, dangerous bacteria, and growth-promoting hormones. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization, classified red meats as “probably carcinogenic to humans” and processed meats as “carcinogenic to humans.” The director of the IARC also supported limited intake of meat as a public health matter. Although researchers aren’t certain which elements of animal meat are potentially carcinogenic, they suspect that heme iron might be to blame — something that lab-grown meat can be made without. Lab-grown meat can also be created free —or nearly free of saturated fat — and therefore cholesterol, another health concern often attributed to meat consumption.
The bottom line is that no matter how much you love animal meat — perhaps even at the expense of its impact on the world — it’s simply not sustainable. Eventually, we will need alternatives, so the time to ensure that we have them available is now.