This South African start-up wants to grow meat from the president’s Ankole cattle cells

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South Africa’s first cell-based meat company has a bold question for President Cyril Ramaphosa. They ask to borrow cells from his award-winning Ankole cattle so they can grow the most desirable cut of beef, without slaughter.

Mzansi Meat Co. founders Brett Thompson and Jay Van Der Walt say they “do things a little bit differently”. This is not an understatement. The startup, Africa’s first cell-based meat company, asks the South African president if he can borrow a sample of cells. Rhamphosa is the president, but he is also the largest cattle rancher in the country.

In fact, his prized Ankole breed of cattle just sold for R 2.7million last week.

Mzansi asks to borrow cells from his Ankole, which will be taken by biopsy, before the country’s National Heritage Day. On September 24, most South Africans celebrate by throwing a big party with plenty of meat on the table. This is why the festival is often referred to as Braai Day, “braai” being the term for barbecue.

Brett Thompson, co-founder of Mzansi Meat (Image: Mzansi Meat)

The best way to get our nation to get into cell farming is to get the highest approval in the country.

Mzansi Meat Co.

“Let’s work with the farmers”

The reason Mzansi is launching their “Project Phosa” campaign is because they want to show the public that they are “here to work with the farmers”. Subsistence farming constitutes a large part of the informal local meat industry in South Africa. The company wants to partner with them to produce meat in a sustainable and ethical way.

“We are aware of some negative perceptions regarding cellular agriculture,” the company explained. “As a startup, our team believed that the best way to get our nation to embark on cellular agriculture was to get the highest endorsement in the country.”

“We are asking our president for a sample of cells from his award-winning Ankole cattle – the most famous and sought-after breed in the whole country.”

Mzansi wants to work with subsistence farmers to obtain cattle cells for cultivated meat. (Image: Mzansi meat)

According to Mzansi, the procedure will not harm the animal and performed by a state veterinarian. The Ankole cow will be under appropriate anesthesia and will then be able to “spend her day in peace shortly after”.

Collaborative revolution in cell-based meat

Ultimately, the startup plans to be able to “reimagine the butcher blocks as we know them” on the African continent. Besides being cruelty-free, producing meat directly from cells means taking the carbon-intensive process of raising cattle out of the equation.

Hopefully, if Ramaphosa decides to help Mzansi, more farmers will be willing to donate their cell samples. “The end result is real meat created with a team of subsistence farmers able to join the formal economy,” the company said.

Mzansi Meat will develop cell-based beef burgers. (Image: Mzansi meat)

The end result is real meat created with a team of subsistence farmers who can join the formal economy.

Mzansi Meat Co.

When it comes to the type of meats Mzansi is aiming for, ground beef, burgers, and nuggets will likely be first.

When the company was launched last year, the founders explained that they would then work on “meat that can be used in traditional cooking”. Burgers and nuggets are very common in Western cuisine, but not so much in African dishes.

“We are working to bring tasty and healthy meat to your braais, potjie and shisanyama,” Mzansi said at the time. “By growing it from cells instead of taking it from animals.”

Main image courtesy of Unsplash.

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