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In the leather industry, nearly all manufacturers are operating with slim profit margins. As a result, there is a growing interest in finding cost efficient sources of raw material. The bio-tech company Modern Meadow is proposing a new high-tech solution aimed at relieving the cost-pressure of raising animals to provide leather.

Recently, leather manufacturer’s profits have been under pressure due to the sharp increase in the cost of producing leather through traditional means. These costs are likely to continue to rise. Modern Meadow’s solution to this problem is Biofabrication – the process in which leather is grown from the skin cells of animals.

Already, today’s 3D printers make it possible to print human tissues and organs. This begs the question, why not grow animal products like leather? This biofabrication process consumes fewer resources than those that livestock require in regards to land, water, energy, and chemicals.“With the livestock industry being the largest user of land and water, and the leading driver of climate change, now is the time to pursue better alternatives”, states Modern Meadow CEO Andras Forgacs. He goes on to state that, “the goal is to develop new leather materials with advantages in design, performance, and sustainability.”

At current industry standards, it can take up to three years to rear and feed an animal to produce leather. Alternatively, the technology to grow the new leather takes around six weeks to grow one square foot.

The process to grow the leather in a lab starts with cells gathered from livestock. Forgacs lauds biofabrication as a “humane, sustainable and scalable new industry”, asserting that it is “environmentally responsible, efficient and humane.”

The products can have the same characteristics as leather but there is no hair to remove and no waste. It is also largely free of imperfections like scars or discoloration. These grown skins are not limited to the irregular shape of the animal but instead can be grown to any shape desired. Technicians can also control many properties of the leather such as its thickness, softness, durability, breathability, and elasticity.

It will be interesting to see how this process develops within the leather industry and how it is received by the public. There is already a stigma surrounding genetically modified and engineered food sources. Perhaps biofabrication of leather will smooth the way for greater reception in other areas of sustainable, laboratory-grown consumables.

Source: Leather International Magazine, Progressive Media Publishing, Progressive House. July 2014. Volume 216, No. 4842.

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