Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World has become a national bestseller since its publication in 2018, and is now available in seven languages. Paul Shapiro’s book sets out to survey one of the most exciting new frontiers in food science, business, and technology: the emerging industry in which entrepreneurs are replacing traditional factory farming and animal slaughter with natural, healthy, flavorful animal meat grown from real animal cells.
A new world of possibilities
The book represents the journey we as human beings are making toward a more sustainable, equitable future, made possible by cell-based technology.
The author also takes the reader on a journey of discovery, as he traces the quest to produce and commercialize the best and safest clean meat possible. He opens the doors to the entire process by which start-up enterprises are seeking their market share in an already rapidly developing and competitive space. Readers will follow along from company founders’ initial visions, to researchers’ work in the lab, to the boardrooms where corporate strategy takes shape in a market the world has never seen before.
Shapiro also offers more than a century of history of the whole idea of producing cultured meats. In the 1890s, a French chemistry professor predicted that by the start of the 21st century, we would already be eating lab-grown meat. And in 1931, none other than Winston Churchill discussed the “absurdity” of raising a chicken for meat when one could figure out a way to grow only a single chicken breast or wing. The book takes the concept all the way to today, providing individual portraits of the mostly “friendly competitors” working across dozens of companies to achieve a common goal.
Clean Meat describes the trajectory of the biotechnology revolution in clean meat that began only a decade ago. In 2013, the world’s first hamburger produced in vitro debuted based on the work of Dr. Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands. The overall production cost more than $300,000, but compare that to the initial astronomic costs of genetic testing in humans, which can now be obtained for a few hundred dollars. The investment into Post’s idea resulted in a burger that noted food writers declared very close to beef in taste and texture, but leaner, while still offering the “bite” of a traditional hamburger.
Only four years later, Post and his team had refined their game to the point of offering a still better burger with a steeply lower price tag. Lab-cultured meatballs followed the initial hamburger, along with a cultured chicken sandwich, and even a “clean” preparation of the classic gourmet dish duck à l’orange. Production costs on all these items continue to fall. It’s a good bet that, by the 2030s, we’ll be able to mass-produce a whole range of cultured meats at affordable price points.
Shapiro’s book also offers plenty of detail about the “pro” and “con” debates surrounding the entire issue of clean meat, along with substantive information on just how revolutionary the development of clean meat will be for all of us.
Cleaner meat = safer Earth
Clean Meat makes plain the fact that factory farming—and the giant, multinational agribusiness firms associated with it—are no longer tenable. Our food animal production chains emit more greenhouse gasses than all major methods of transportation combined. Given the rapid pace of climate change, it’s fair to say these practices threaten continued human existence and all life on earth.
In the book’s pages, readers will see that clean meat offers the alternative that can help us solve problems previously thought intractable. Clean meat provides greater efficiency in food production because it allows us to grow only the muscle and other parts of the animal needed, obviating the need for a large-scale industry centered on livestock breeding, warehousing, and slaughter. Clean meat reduces the environmental toxins and pollutants that currently find their way into our water, air, and soil as byproducts of factory farming. (It’s instructive to note here that factory farming is one of the leading markets for antibiotics and chemical toxins.)
Clean meat production technologies also produce healthier foods grown without the questionable hormones, antibiotics, and other additives designed to make animals artificially larger and to protect them from the pathogens that can spread easily in the crowded pens and cages they’re forced to endure. Imagine drinking clean milk without cow pus, or eating clean pork without worrying whether it’s contaminated with salmonella.
Clean meat also gives us a way of equalizing access to nutritious foods for people around the world, creating greater social and political stability in the process. And it offers a humane, ethical way of producing the same meat humans are used to eating—just without the horrific slaughter methods that subject animals to terror and pain and often create unsafe, exploitive working environments for humans.
Kinder technologies = a better world
As soon as clean meat becomes as efficient at scale as factory farming, it will begin to render the latter outmoded and unnecessary in both economic and ethical terms. Just as solar, wind, and other sources of clean energy are replacing coal-fired and petroleum-based power plants, so the new clean meat industry stands ready to replace conventional factory farms.
Yuval Noah Harari, the acclaimed historian who wrote the big-thought bestsellers Sapiens and Homo Deus, penned the foreword to Clean Meat. Harari points out that there are billions of domesticated pigs, cows, and other farm animals in the world today—some 50 billion chickens alone. These numbers far exceed those of the earth’s wild animal population.
Then there’s us, the animal species that treats our domestic animals as no more than machines for production. The very shapes of their bodies and the configurations of their lives are determined by a market centered on cost-cutting and profit-making. Given the tremendous suffering this causes, Harari observes that industrial mass farming of this type is likely among “the worst crimes in history.”
In generations past, technological developments produced results that usually only worsened the quality of life of domesticated food animals. But Shapiro’s book demonstrates how the clean meat revolution can change all that—and so much more—for the better.