Imagine a world where even the most committed vegan can bite into a beef burger without betraying their principles. Science has made this unlikely scenario a reality.

The argument that “meat is murder” could become a thing of the past, thanks to groundbreaking technology that produces real meat from animal cells.

Memphis Meats, which is backed by billionaires Bill Gates and Richard Branson, is developing a process that churns out beef, chicken and duck, without the need to raise animals for slaughter.

Not only does this fledgling technology safeguard animal welfare, it also provides a solution to the sustainability and human health issues of raising livestock for meat.

With other companies also investing in the technology, it is hoped that so-called ‘clean meat’ could soon be available on the mass market.

Vegetarians and vegans may soon be able to eat clean meat like this lab-grown meatball
Image: Memphis Meats

Meat is big business

Despite the arguments against eating meat, billions of people around the world continue to do so. Consumers spend almost $1 trillion on meat every year, and in parts of the world demand is expected to double in the coming decades.

Australians, Americans and Argentines are among the world’s biggest meat eaters
Image: OECD (2015)

Clean meat could provide the ingredients to solving some major ethical and environmental problems.

Early products have been eye-wateringly expensive – the first clean-meat burger cost around $330,000 in 2013. But Memphis Meats is now producing clean meat for $40 per gram. The ultimate goal is for it to be cheaper than the least expensive conventionally produced chicken.

The science behind clean meat

Clean meat is produced by using a small sample of animal cells that regenerate themselves outside of the animal in large steel tanks.

The resulting product is 100% real meat, which advocates claim tastes just as good as traditionally sourced meat. It’s also guaranteed to be free of all antibiotics, E. coli or salmonella.

Memphis Meats’ method of clean meat production requires just one tenth of the water and one hundredth of the land that is currently used to raise livestock.

The revolutionary process has already won over animal rights groups, with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) praising clean meat technology for its potential to save the lives of billions of animals each year.

Around nine billion chickens are killed for their flesh each year in the United States alone
Image: REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

Funding the future of clean meat

Clean meat is causing quite a stir among the business community, with a number of major corporations clamouring to invest in the technology.

Memphis Meats has so far raised $22 million, with the majority of funding coming from investors including Gates, Branson and Cargill Inc, one of the world’s largest agricultural companies.

Commenting on his investment, Branson told Bloomberg News: “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.”

Meanwhile, a number of other companies, such as Mosa Meat and SuperMeat, are competing to be the first to bring clean meat to consumers’ plates.

Virgin boss Richard Branson has invested in clean meat
Image: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson