Wednesday, October 17, 2012

3D Printed Meat - Disruption of the Supply Chain Food Network?

A lot has been said about 3D printing. I think the idea behind bioprinting is very fascinating. The concept is to print living cells dot-by-dot to produce a tissue, which can further be used to produce organs. Surely we can see the benefits of being able to print organs on demand. Bioprinting of organs clearly solves critical healthcare issues, and will greatly benefit the society as a whole. The latest idea around bioprinting is to print meat.

A startup called Modern Meadow is experimenting with methods to manufacture leather products from animal cells. It will reduce illegal killing of animals, and could make leather goods an affordable commodity since the intermediaries involved in manufacturing leather goods will be skipped over. The founders of Modern Meadow then began to think about the other uses of using animal tissues and the idea to print meat is being explored.[1]

Modern Meadow received a $350,000 funding from the Thiel Foundation to pursue research on 3D printing meat. Thiel Foundation has funded projects like Facebook, PayPal. This leads us to believe that this venture capitalist foundation sees a lot of potential in 3D printing meat techniques.

The benefits of being able to successfully print meat using 3D bioprinting techniques are - it does not involve killing of animals to make the meat, the quality of meat being delivered is assured, you can see the meat being printed in front of your eyes assuring you of the sanitation levels of the meat. It will serve as a great supplement of animal protein which is an essential component of a healthy diet. It caters to vegetarians who don't eat meat today due to ethical reasons. In terms of supply chain, this will significantly affect the production and distribution meat industry, if printers capable of bioprinting become ubiquitous. High end restaurants may soon purchase a printer capable of printing meat to cater to its elite customers. Restaurants could also potentially increase the price of meat because the quality of the meat is being assured. On the other hand, it could also lower the costs of meat because the only raw materials that are now required are animal cells. The supply chain network will thus have to place an emphasis on raw material manufacturers and suppliers. The supply of animal tissues might be critical for organ printing since they need to be treated at the right temperature, however, for meat, the tissues being used have fewer such restrictions since the tissues can be in the degenerative state.

The goal of Modern Meadows is to print a sliver of meat. It is expensive today, but if this experiment were to be successful, the cost is likely to go down. It could potentially solve hunger and nutrition problems across the world. This experiment is very valuable to the society. Do you think the future of 3D printing could be food? Would there be a day when a pizza can be printed right from scratch?

[1]: Smarter Planet - Investing in 3D printed meat -
3D printed Meat - It's whats for dinner -

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