Yes, say Richard Branson and Bill Gates. So too do a growing number of well-funded start-ups trying to make meat without animals, with a view to addressing concerns about animal welfare and the carbon footprint of meat.

This year Memphis Meats, a low-profile 2016-start-up, secured funding from a notable group of investors.

They included Bill Gates and Richard Branson, as well as food industry heavyweight Cargill and former GE CEO Jack Welch. Venture capital group DFJ, which has previously backed Skype, Tesla and Twitter, led the funding.

Growing meat from the cellular level

Memphis says its ‘clean meat’ is “identical to the meat we eat, down to the cellular level”.

It competes with Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, which produce plant-based burgers said to emulate beef burgers more closely than has been achieved before. Gates is invested in both, while Branson is among Beyond Meat’s backers.

However, an important difference lies in the fact Memphis is producing meat by using animal cells, so its products are not going to be meat alternatives. The Silicon Valley-based group has produced beef, chicken and duck in its lab and is aiming to produce all meats by the same methods.

The process works by feeding self-producing cells in tanks, or bioreactors, with oxygen, sugar and other nutrients. The resulting product is being positioned as a meat that is produced without harming animals or producing methane.

There is no wasted land or excess water use, no deforestation for cattle grazing. What’s more, the resulting ‘clean meat’ won’t have come from animals treated with antibiotics, or grazed on chemically fertilised soil, nor will the meat have been contaminated with anything undesirable in a slaughterhouse.

‘Clean meat’: what’s the catch?

The meat – perhaps a new word will be needed since we are so used to coupling meat with animal – is being touted by its venture capital investors as having a better taste and more nutritional value than meat as we know it. So what’s the catch?

So far only a closed group can vouch for the taste, as nothing is for sale yet. Nor is it expected to hit shelves until 2021.

It is difficult to predict consumer reaction beyond Memphis’s home in forward-thinking Silicon Valley. However, the presence of Cargill on the investment roster is significant.

Working with Cargill signals that Memphis is firmly aiming for commercially sustainable production: a product that is affordable to the growing Chinese and Indian middle classes.

On paper, ‘clean meat’ solves so many socio-economic problems that if Memphis is able to get its products on shelves at an affordable price it’s hard to imagine consumers won’t be interested.

But this is meat grown in a tank – and the uncoupling of ‘meat’ and ‘animal’ is going to be quite a hurdle. Success will ultimately require a huge amount of trust from consumers and transparency from Memphis. Obviously there is no regulatory framework yet for meat ‘from animals’ that isn’t actually from animals.

Is there anybody better to pull off the required PR feat than Gates and Branson?

Click here to access GlobalData reports on the meat market.