Lab-Grown Meat for Your Cat Is Coming to the U.S. This Year


LONDON—Would you feed your pets meat grown in a lab?

The world’s first cat food made with lab-grown chicken is gearing up to launch in the U.S. later in the year.

Meatly, the London-based startup, has created cruelty-free, faux-chicken cat food grown from a single fertilized egg. It will be available to buy first at Pets at Home stores in the U.K. later this summer as part of their sustainable initiative.

Talking from his bijou North London garden with his cats buzzing around him, Owen Ensor, the co-founder and chief executive, said, “It’s very exciting to see the first ever cans of cultivated pet food fly off the production line. We have a R&D partnership with a large pet-food manufacturer in America and are currently going through the regulatory hurdles. The model we have in the U.K. with a retailer and manufacturer relationships works well, so ideally we’ll try to replicate that with someone like PetSmart and Petco.”

Meatly’s 150g (5oz) tins of cultivated-chicken cat food will cost roughly £1 ($1.25). Cultivated meat, also known as cell-based or clean meat, is produced by culturing animal cells in a giant stainless-steel tanks, much like brewing beer. The company’s scientists extracted “a sample of cells from a single chicken egg” and grow them into a product that is biologically indistinguishable from the flesh of a slaughtered bird. It is also free of hormones, steroids and antibiotics—all things commonly found in meat, organic or otherwise.

“Nobody has died for it. We didn’t have to raise and kill an animal,” Ensor said, “We use far less resources of water and land, less greenhouse emissions and we’re not razing rainforests, polluting rivers and oceans. We get to sidestep all of those issues while still providing healthy meat that’s far kinder.”

Ensor, a relatively recent convert to veganism, has tried the first product himself, which he said “tastes just like chicken.” He has also tested the cultivated-chicken dish on his own two rescue ginger tabbies Lamu and Zanzi, “who love it.”

Growing up in Edinburgh, Ensor, 35, started in consulting before shifting to the bio-tech world. “I wanted to work in developing countries and for a social enterprise because I thought it would be an interesting mix of capitalistic intentions and social impact. That’s how I found Sanargy in Kenya, creating a zero-waste system by using organic waste to feed insects which we sold as animal feed. At the same time, after watching Cowspiracy, [my wife] Harriet and I became vegan. I started questioning, ‘Do I want to be breeding insects and selling them as chicken feed?’ Even though it’s part of this great zero-waste system. When we came back to the U.K., I did some work with multinationals on their plant-based food strategies and got interested in the food world because it’s real.”

Reflecting the growing trend for socially-conscious pet ‘parents’ to feed their companion animals veggie diets, there’s a wide range of plant and potato-based products already available like the California-based Wild Earth and New York’s Bramble Pets. Animal lovers, especially vegans and vegetarians, grapple with the conflict between their pet’s natural diets and their ethical stance of animal exploitation and environmental destruction of meat production. While dogs who are omnivores thrive on well-balanced plant-rich diets and may even live longer than meat-eating dogs, it’s wholly unsuitable and detrimental for cats who must remaincarnivores. It’s why Meatly’s first product is for cats, “as there’s no credible meat-free substitute. Cats can’t make taurine, and the only way they can get it is from animal-protein sources.”

Meatly is also planning a product for dogs “as a lot of people don’t want to feed their dogs a plant diet.” The aim is to produce a new generation of cat and dog food that doesn’t rely on farmed animals, as a compassionate, more environmentally friendly alternative to killing billions of animals and destroying the planet in order to meet demand.

Cultivated-meat pet food could have profound ethical and environmental advantages. Petcare giants like Nestle Global that produce low-quality fare like Purina, Friskies and Fancy Feast view lab-grown meat and meat-free options as a market opportunity. Other pet-food companies are wary of the industry disruption or skeptical about the long-term health impact of these alternative protein sources.

“Clean meat makes sense in every way, but the question is whether it will be safe for our cats and dogs,” said Lorenzo Capellino, CEO of Almo Nature, a premium human-grade cat and dog food that is unique among pet-food brands in that it gives 100 percent of its profits to European animal shelters and wildlife projects. “Almo Nature has decided to follow the research very closely, albeit with an absolute line of caution. Pet food could be one of the first areas in which these proteins will be tested, but we will only use these ingredients when there’s sufficient evidence of their suitability to meet the nutritional needs of dogs and cats.”

“I think once we’re able to prove that it’s safe and commercially viable the winds of change will come,” Ensor said. “One of the questions I get is ‘what is it, what does it look like?’ Until people get to see it and experience it, the newness is a bit difficult. People care deeply about their companion animals and what’s best for them, so we need to provide that reassurance.”

Globally, the pet-food industry is booming and pets currently account for a fifth of the world’s meat consumption. The industry’s carbon footprint could weigh even more heavily in the years to come, as companion animal numbers grow. By 2026, Meatly estimates that the market is set to grow by seven percent a year, representing about $150 billion. “About 40 percent of pet food worldwide is sold in the U.S., so it’s a huge market but the quality can be very challenging. There are a lot of recalls, animals die and humans die with the contamination.”

Meatly is among several other startups—such as BioCraft Pet Nutrition and Bond Pet Foods in the U.S. and Bene and Hill’s Nutrition in Europe—on a quest to cut animal agriculture out of the equation by using cell-cultured meat, producing a healthier, more sustainable option for the world’s pets.

If all cats and dogs in the U.S. alone switched to cultivated-meat or plant-based protein two billion livestock and billions of aquatic animals might be spared from being killed. Most pet food is a by-product of the meat industry and much of it comes from farmed animals that are ‘dead, diseased, dying, disabled’—the 4Ds as it’s known within industry—all of which makes them unfit for human consumption. “That’s mostly in the U.S., it happens less in the U.K.,” Ensor pointed out. “But with the soaring demand, that’s changing. Nearly 50 percent of pet meat can be fed to humans, so companion animals are already competing with the human food chain.”

Higher-welfare pet food exists, but it’s extremely expensive and rare, particularly in the U.S., where 99 percent of meat comes from factory-farmed animals who live short, brutal lives under cruel conditions. Even so, more than 30 percent of farmed animals are turned into pet food, so in effect the meat industry is propped up and made profitable by pet food. In fact, the biggest American corporate slaughterhouses like Tyson and Cargill Foods own multiple pet-food brands as a way to recycle dead, diseased and dying farm animals and the so-called ‘waste’ of carcasses—hooves, beaks, bones, blood, intestines and other undesirable body parts. Disturbingly, even euthanized cats and dogs reportedly make into pet food. Recently several American pet foods issued recalls after detecting traces of pentobarbital, a sedative normally used to euthanize cats, dogs and horses, in its products.

When cultured meat for companion animals is sold on an industrial scale it will make a monumental impact on so many levels, especially for farmed animals. Ensor believes clean-meat will not only change the way we feed our cats and dogs but it’s also a stride toward more humane, sustainable, safer and even healthier alternative to conventional choices. “I think what’s great is that we’re only scratching the surface of what’s possible.”

This post was originally published on Daily Beast

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