The most imminent threat to red meat is a variation on the artificial protein theme with the development of burgers using a protein called soy leghaemoglobin by genetically modifying yeast and using fermentation. Impossible Burgers, founded in 2011 by an ex-Stanford University professor, has found a way to produce the heme protein which is found in animal muscle and gives meat its unique flavour.
The company’s invention has passed a number of food safety tests and has gained a patent for use in plant-based meats. It is also sustainable, using 75 percent less water and requiring a small fraction of the land required to produce cattle, at least in the US. Impossible Burgers, which currently operates out of a small factory in New Jersey has attracted US$75 million investment from several high profile investors including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Singapore wealth-fund Temasek. This will enable the company to build a new factory capable of producing 5.5 million kilos a year, equivalent to four million plant-based burgers every month.
The product is already being bought by eight high end restaurants in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, but the expanded facility will target 1,000 such restaurants. Impossible Foods founder and chief executive Patrick Brown said: “Our goal is to make sustainable, delicious and affordable meat for everyone, as soon as possible.”
After six years of development work and trials, Impossible Foods is only at the start of what could be a hugely successful transformation of global demand for meat, at least meat produced in the traditional manner on-farm. The next steps in this well-funded venture will determine whether there is sufficient demand for plant-based burgers to expand further afield into American mainstream restaurants, fast food outlets and supermarkets and ultimately overseas markets.
Obviously, this will only be a drop in the ocean of all restaurants in the USA, but it looms as a significant longer term threat to traditional beef consumption. It will be interesting to track the success of the technology and to see how widespread its use becomes or if equally successful alternatives can be developed by other organisations. There seems to be little doubt that the search for alternatives to the real thing will gather pace and, within the next decade, meat will be competing with a whole range of other proteins.