Liz Marshall (Liz Mars) and Bullfrog Films

As someone who chooses plant-based foods in order to lessen the climate and environmental impacts from conventional meat production, I am encouraged by Meat the Future, directed by Liz Marshall. This documentary highlights a hopeful advancement in food science and a possible solution for inhumane greenhouse gas producing large-scale animal farms. Dr. Uma Valeti, a former cardiologist from the Mayo Clinic, and his expert team are leading the work and research necessary to produce “clean meat,” or “cultivated meat” grown from animal cells but without animal slaughter, excessive greenhouse gas emissions, or environmental and climate degradation. 

Jane Goodall, opens and closes the documentary with her poignant words, describing the situation that humanity faces regarding sufficient food production with an exponentially increasing population, pointing out that by 2050, global meat consumption is expected to double. Goodall reminds us that large-scale conventional animal agriculture, “occupies nearly half of the world’s land, produces significant amounts of greenhouse gases, and is a potential breeding ground for health pandemics like Covid-19.” With this as our current reality, the documentary clearly echoes Goodall’s pronouncement for “the next agricultural revolution,” one related to a transformation of our meat production systems. 

Dr. Uma Valeti and Nicholas Genovese, surrounded by team, sample cell-based chicken from Upside Foods.

One headline, “No animals were harmed in the making of this meatball” highlights the advantages of growing meat from animal cells and rich nutrients. Formerly Memphis Meats, now Upside Foods, is currently producing meat in this way. It looks, tastes, and cooks exactly like meat raised by animals. Meat the Future describes the bioengineering journey Upside Foods has taken to arrive at this place in food production. Nicholas Genovese, Co-founder and Chief Science Officer of Upside Foods, states that depending on an animal’s isolated cellular division rather than their reproductive cycles for meat production includes a major paradigm shift.  

One benefit to this approach is that meat would be free of large amounts of antibiotics currently needed to keep animals healthy in unclean and crowded living conditions, explains a speaker from Animal Legal Defense Fund at the USDA and FDA regulatory hearing. The film also shows the unethical and harsh realities that animals experience living in feedlots or small cages. Michael Selden, Co-Founder & CEO of Finless Foods explains that cell-based blue fin tuna raised in this way would be mercury and chemical free and contain no microplastics for consumers, as well as abide by ethical and environmental concerns related to over-fishing and animal cruelty. New Harvest and Animal Wellness Action highlight existing food insecurity around the world as a reason to more efficiently produce protein sources without the large agricultural impact (growing animal feed is about half of global agricultural production).  

Jessica Almy, Director of Policy for The Good Food Institute, another clean meat company, mentions findings from a poll that two thirds of Americans are willing to try meat grown from animal cells. Both Bill Gates, Cargill Inc. – one of the largest global agriculture companies, and Tyson Foods have backed this “clean meat startup,” and the financial backing has continued to grow. Due to the current process of production being quite costly and producing only a small quantity of meat, the remaining challenges are expanding the scale to supply a large customer base and lowering the cost of producing meat using this technology (the cost to produce a pound of meat decreased from $18,000 initially to $1,700 and now is “well below $50 a pound”—with goals to decrease the cost further for consumer affordability). Dr. Valeti’s team is also testing ways to successfully ‘grow’ animal cells with animal-free nutrients – previously bovine and other animal-based growth serums have been used which would still burden the environment from a dependence on animal products. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has raised concerns about customer confusion related to products labeled meat but are cell-based rather than from a living animal. After the regulatory hearings in 2018, both the USDA and FDA agreed that creating safe standards and clarifying language around clean meat is the way forward for responsible science-based food innovation. 

Meat the Future gives the viewer a sense of hope with an in-depth look at an inspiring group of individuals committed to finding a solution – one that will eliminate current problems from large-scale animal agriculture that are harming living livestock and negatively impacting the environment. This documentary is a must see for anyone concerned about our current food production systems and how to make them less harmful to animals, our climate and future.

Carrie Leslie

Carrie Leslie

Carrie M. Leslie is a Research Assistant, Doctoral student, and Instructor at the University of Oklahoma and Editorial Assistant at The Solutions Journal. She focuses her research on Environmental and...

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