South Africans are well known for their love of barbecuing meat, called “braaing” in Afrikaans. But in a bid to cut down on the harm livestock farming does to the environment, one South African company has become the first on the continent to produce lab-grown meat.
The Mzansi Meat Company started up about two years ago. Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Tasneem Karodia, 31, said they have been funded by South African and overseas investors, most of whom have an interest in the environment, animal welfare and/or health.
Growing meat in a lab begins with a fairly simple procedure, Karodia explained.
“We take a biopsy from an animal and the biopsy’s really kind of the size of a peppercorn. Usually take it from the shoulder with some muscle and fat. And it’s really quite a small process. And it takes five minutes and the animal is up and running within an hour,” she said. “And from there we process it currently in a lab. We do a few things to make sure that it works and continues to grow.”
She said the company replicates the same conditions that are in a cow, just outside of the cow. So, for instance, the meat is put at 37 degrees because it’s a mammal, and it is given sugars and amino acids.
“When we’re at a large scale, what this looks like is not really a lab but it looks like a brewery,” Karodia said. “So, cells will grow in steel vats like your beer grows, and that’s really what it looks like at scale.”
She said because cells grow quite flat, the company is not able to grow steaks, so instead it opts for minced meat to make burgers and sausage.
At a barbeque or braai restaurant called Shisa Nyama in Woodstock, Cape Town, a woman behind the counter said she would be keen to try the cultivated meat once it becomes commercially available.
But a customer said he’s not so eager. “What about people’s health? Better for the environment yeah, fine, but what about people’s health? Yeah, no, I wouldn’t,” he said.
Green Peace Africa’s Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner Nhlanhla Sibisi said the organization continues to call on people to eat less meat to reduce methane, a harmful greenhouse gas produced by cows which traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere.
“Government needs to also come up with clear policies as well as guidelines that can be legislated in terms of, if the route of cultivating meat is taken, that all safety is ensured and that’s got to be paramount,” Sibisi said.
Karodia said Mzani is hoping to get the go-ahead from the South African government to sell its products to restaurants in 12 to 18 months.
For now, she said, the target market is South Africa, but the company is also considering other parts of the continent.