What’s the Beef

by Heidi Roizen, DFJ Partner

It’s no longer “where’s the beef,” it’s “what’s the beef’”— and what happens next could have a chilling effect on the innovation desperately needed to dramatically improve how meat is produced. The US Cattlemen’s Association has a beef with me.

Well, not me exactly, but with a company DFJ has invested in (and on whose board I serve), Memphis Meats, and other companies like it, who are trying to add new choices to the way our favorite proteins are produced.

In a recent petition submitted by the US Cattlemen’s Association (USCA), a trade association that aims to support the interests of livestock producers, the Cattlemen have asked the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to restrict the definition of meat to mean only ‘meat from a slaughtered animal’. The Cattlemen’s petition is currently under review by the USDA, and if the request were to be accepted, it would end the ability for companies like Memphis Meats to call our meat products, well, meat.

That seems pretty crazy to me, especially in the case of Memphis Meats. You see, Memphis Meats is a food company that produces meat and poultry from animal cells. With a diverse group of supporters and investors including DFJ, Tyson Foods, Cargill, and Bill Gates, Memphis Meats intends to work alongside conventional animal agriculture to produce meat and poultry in a safe and scalable way.

I think the fact that two of the largest entities in the meat industry have also made investments in Memphis Meats speaks to the important nature of the work being undertaken at Memphis Meats.

Many leading industry experts have pointed out that the current methods of production create huge issues for our environment. The method of ‘growing meat’ through live animals is also very inefficient, in fact here’s a fun fact for you — it takes about 23 calories of input to create a single calorie of beef, and after all that feeding, less than one-third of the cow is actually edible meat. Much of the cow’s carcass is not even eaten. Today’s methods also use huge amounts of the world’s arable land, fresh water and energy. We are facing a rapid growth in the global demand for meat. If we want the world to keep eating meat — and that is clearly something humans seem to want to do — it is imperative for us to use innovation and explore new ideas.

Memphis Meats sees itself as a member of the food and agriculture community, and we must all work together to make the food system better. The company is committed to being honest and transparent with both regulators and consumers about its products and how they are made in an ongoing effort to build trust. We strongly believe that clean/cultured meat will be an important way to produce meat and poultry products, alongside conventional practices, in a manner that is safe, scalable, and sustainable. We all want to help meet the overall global demand for meat products and we are happy to live by rules that will help consumers feel great about the safety of what’s on their plates.

But let me be clear. We are making meat. Literally. What the heck else would we even call it?

To paraphrase the duck test– if it looks like duck meat, tastes like duck meat, was grown from duck cells, is cellularly identical to duck meat, and has the same functional, compositional, and nutritional characteristics of duck meat, it is duck meat!

I am one of the few lucky people who have already tasted Memphis Meats duck (sautéed with nothing other than salt, pepper and oil, by the way) and let me assure you, it is fabulous and completely indistinguishable, at least to my taste buds, from any duck I’ve eaten before.

Thinking even bigger for a second: The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association’s petition, if granted, would stifle innovation in meat and poultry production such that no method of development other than “traditional” or current practice could be used to produce meat and poultry products, regardless of the safety, composition, function, and other characteristics of the finished product or its labeling. Chilling important advances in food production without justified reason would encourage a technological standstill at a time when the global need for protein-based foods is on an exponential rise. The US agricultural industry has been the world’s best model for food innovations that produce delicious, nutritious, and safe foods for our families. Memphis Meats is helping to preserve this tradition of innovation in the US by bringing meat to the table using new production methods.

Do you think other countries are going to similarly stand still when faced with the growing desire and need for meat? I certainly don’t.

Memphis Meats has submitted comments requesting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture deny the Petition by the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association. Instead, we think the USDA should collaborate with stakeholders across the industry and at the Food and Drug Administration to develop a modern regulatory framework that supports innovation and the continued growth of the meat and poultry industries.

If anyone reading this would like to voice an opinion, feel free to submit your comment to the USDA here. The deadline to voice your opinion on this important issue is midnight Eastern Time on May 17th, 2018.

It is an honor to work with the wonderful people at Memphis Meats and I look forward to the day everyone can try our meat!