The Israeli company SuperMeat has generated buzz worldwide with its promise to create real chicken meat without chickens.
We’re not kidding; this news has really gone global:
So how is SuperMeat going to make good on its promise of 100 percent meat and zero percent animal suffering? By growing chicken meat outside of the animal, that’s how. To accomplish this, a small sample of cells is removed from an animal and grown into meat in a clean environment—no slaughterhouse, no suffering.
Ido Savir, SuperMeat co-founder and CEO, hopped on a video call with yours truly to share more about the company’s methods and mission to overhaul the global food system.
E: So what initially drove you to focus on food system problems?
I: I’m a big believer in technology as the driver of positive change in the world. I believe in local activism, but as I looked at the world and saw how the population is growing and how meat consumption is expected to double in the next 20 years, I knew I needed to look for a global solution that would feed the population without destroying the planet. Then I heard about cultured meat (aka clean meat) technology, and I immediately saw its potential for global impact. I was hooked.
E: So you just dropped everything to create SuperMeat?
I: Not exactly, but I knew I needed to do my part. I had been intrigued by the concept of clean meat as a global solution to some really big global problems, and I started to realize that people—especially investors—weren’t taking enough notice of this world-changing technology. I wanted to do everything I could to change that and bring this technology to the forefront because I recognized that it could really help our planet environmentally, ethically, and in terms of public health. The most direct way we could think of to do this was to found SuperMeat.
E: And you’re not only participating in this movement—the SuperMeat team is really driving clean meat innovation. Can you tell me a little bit about the science behind your animal-free chicken?
I: What’s fantastic is that we already have so much of the technology and knowledge available to us to create clean meat, but it’s always been used for other applications or in the medical field. We simply take a small biopsy from a chicken, and then we’re able to grow that organically into full-size tissue just by creating an environment that matches a chicken’s physiology. One of our founders, Professor Yaakov Nahmias, is an expert in this area and has been a big reason why we’ve been able to move forward so successfully. Just a few months ago, Prof. Nahmias managed to engineer liver tissue without animal serum in a very cost-effective manner. And those are two key goals of SuperMeat: to create clean chicken meat without having to use animal serum, and to make it cost-effective for consumers.
Editor’s note: In laymen’s terms, “serum” is a substance that is given to cells to promote growth. Some serums are derived from animals and therefore pose a problem for SuperMeat’s mission. In what was considered a major scientific breakthrough of 2015, Prof. Nahmias’s lab demonstrated completely animal- and serum-free expansion of human liver cells.
E: So why the focus on chicken meat?
I: First off, other clean meat companies weren’t focusing on chicken, so we saw an opportunity there that wasn’t being addressed in the market. With more than 50 billion chickens slaughtered every year, we couldn’t ignore the potential to end that much suffering. There are also so many health issues associated with producing chicken meat in the traditional way—there’s salmonella and arsenic contamination, for example—so that’s something else that we can improve on. Our product is much cleaner and healthier.
E: There’s really been a groundswell of support for SuperMeat around the globe, and especially in your home country. Can you tell me more about the animal-free movement in Israel?
I: There’s a lot of power behind the movement here. Especially in Tel Aviv, there are so many vegan restaurants opening every day, and vegans are really visible on social networks. It’s really different and a lot more radical than what’s happening in other countries, I think. It seems that in Europe and the United States, people are becoming more interested in getting animals out of agriculture for the sake of the environment and for health reasons. In Israel, it really is all about the animals. People are very focused on ending animal suffering as quickly and efficiently as possible, which is why the vegan movement in Israel is also very supportive of clean meat.
Editor here again: At last count, around 5 percent of Israel’s population claimed a vegan diet. The Israeli Defense Forces even offers vegan-friendly ration packs, non-leather boots, and wool-less berets. Oh, and Israel is also home to the world’s first vegan Domino’s pizza.
E: So what does the future look like for SuperMeat?
I: Working hard on the research and development of SuperMeat's products as well as recruiting the best scientists and minds from around the world so we can get our products to consumers ASAP and stop the animal suffering and environmental destruction. We're still open to investments and especially welcome ideological investors who want to help make this world a bit better for all of its inhabitants.
Animals don't really have a chance unless awareness campaigns and technological advances work together. Only that combination will bring us to where we need to be, and at SuperMeat, that's what we're working to do.
E: Thanks so much, Ido, and thanks for your world-changing work!
To learn more about how GFI supports companies like SuperMeat, visit our website.
visit cleanmeat.org for info on the who, what, and why of clean meat.