Berkeley cell-based meat company announces pilot facility plans

Memphis Meat/Courtesy

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Memphis Meats, a cell-based meat company based in Berkeley, announced plans for its pilot production facility Jan. 22.

In its most recent round of fundraising, Memphis Meats raised $161 million, the largest funding round in the cell-based meat industry. Memphis Meats creates real meat from animal cells, which benefits the environment and animal welfare, according to Memphis Meats spokesperson David Kay. The company has yet to announce a release date for its cell-based meat.

“By 2050, demand for meat is expected to almost double. This poses a real challenge for our global food system because given the way meat is currently produced, there just aren’t enough resources to meet that doubling of demand. … What we’re trying to do is develop a way of producing meat that is more scalable,” Kay said. “We’re doing it in a way that provides significant benefits for the environment, for animal welfare, for public health.”

In comparison to traditional meat production, Kay said cell-based meat uses less water, less land and results in less greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite the proposed benefits, Ricardo San Martin, research director of the Alternative Meats Lab at UC Berkeley, said he was concerned about the feasibility of cell-based meat. San Martin also expressed that cell-based meat is an “industry-controlled” information release and that little has been published about it.

“You are dealing with cells that are prone to infection and contamination with human viruses. You could have a serious event if you aren’t monitoring that,” San Martin said. “So, that, on its own, is a big roadblock for the industry because it means that the facilities that you have to build are super expensive.”

Before announcing a release date for its products, Kay added that Memphis Meats needs to become more clear about the “regulatory pathway forward,” which involves continuing to provide information to the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. At this time, the company is also working to scale production to a “more meaningful scale.”

Kay anticipates that upon initial product release, Memphis Meats will likely be at a price premium because its demographic includes those who are willing to spend more for a product that benefits the environment and animal welfare. As it continues to scale production, the company seeks to make its products accessible to everyone, according to Kay.

“We have a lot of work to do to achieve the type of impact we’re seeking to achieve at Memphis Meats,” Kay said. “All the milestones we’ve reached already are certainly really important milestones, and they mean a lot for our future food system, but we should never forget that there is still a lot of work to do.”

Contact Taylor Rudman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @TaylorRudman.