Coming soon, 3-D printed meat

Food System
Sep 5th, 2012 | By Aubrey Yee

Billionaire Peter Theil’s legendary Breakout Labs is investing in a technology that sounds fantastical or gross or maybe both – they are betting on the future of 3-D printed meat and leathers for the mass market.

Modern Meadow is a start-up that came out of the Singularity University’s business incubator which aims to help highly innovative ideas reach the market. The chief scientist behind Modern Meadow is Gabor Forgacs. He developed the patented technology for printed organs and human tissue under his company Organovo.

As explained on Organovo’s website, the 3D printers use human cells and a preset 3D design matrix to ‘print’ human tissue:

>”The 3D bio-printers include an intuitive software interface that allows engineers to build a model of the tissue construct before the printer commences the physical constructions of the organs cell-by-cell using automated, laser-calibrated print heads.”

Those tissue products are primarily used in research, but as Forgacs’ son Andras recently told Co.Exist, “The idea struck us that if we can make medical-grade tissues that are good enough for drug companies, good enough for patients, then certainly we can find other applications for tissue engineering.” That’s when they thought of printing meat.

Meat consumption is taxing on the environment with heavy water use, feed that must be diverted to livestock, demands on land for production and gases like methane released by the animals’ manure in feedlots. Industrial factory farming is not a very sustainable or humane practice.

We outline some of the negative effects of factory farming livestock and CAFO’s (Confined Animal Feeding Operations), like pollution and cruelty, in a previous post. And with meat consumption on the rise around the world, the idea of meat that can be printed from cells sounds like an ideal solution. It would also help to curb food waste by allowing just enough meat to be produced at any given time.

But for many people the idea of printing meat has a definite ick factor. Forgacs hopes that by starting with leather that can be used for clothing or accessories, people will have a chance to get used to the idea.

In a research summary submitted to the Department of Agriculture, Modern Meadow explains that, “bio-printing has been applied to build three-dimensional tissues and organ structures of specific architecture and functionality for purposes of regenerative medicine. Here we propose to adapt this technology to building meat products for consumption.”

In just a few years, you may be able to get a custom hamburger, printed to order and virtually guilt free.

Tagged: sustainable agriculture, sustainability, food waste, food miles, sustainable living, CAFO, factory farming, food system, food, Food & Farms

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