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A primer on lab-cultivated meat

Article-A primer on lab-cultivated meat

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Cultivated meat has taken the food technology scene by storm. Here, experts weigh in on where lab-grown meat came from and where it’s going.

Today, more than 100 companies around the globe have entered the market for lab-grown meat, according to Faraz Harsini, M.Sc., Ph.D., bioprocessing senior scientist at The Good Food Institute. Some of the companies, he added, said they’ll have production capacities in the tens of thousands of tons per year within the next couple of years—a massive feat since the first cultivated meat product, a hamburger, was introduced in 2013.

“Cultivated meat companies have yet to reach production capacities that meet the current demand,” Harsini said. “Nonetheless, the industry is growing rapidly, and there is increasing interest in cultivated meat as a sustainable and ethical alternative to traditional meat production.”

Despite the strides lab-grown meat has taken in recent years, there’s still work to do to get cultivated meat products to consumers. Here’s how the category is unfolding.

What is lab-cultivated meat?

Simply put, lab-cultivated meat is meat that’s grown in a lab using a sample of cells collected from an animal, typically through harmless methods like a small biopsy.

From there, the cells have to be isolated, developed and characterized before they can be cultured and preserved in specialized facilities, Harsini explained. “All subsequent production of cultivated meat is initiated using cells stored within these cell banks and not from live animals,” he noted.

Cultivators provide the living conditions the cells need to grow, and growth media, a substance derived from non-animal sources, is used to feed the cells.

“After several weeks, the cells are harvested and processed, similar to conventional food processing, into different forms of cultivated meat, such as burger patties, meatballs or nuggets, which are then seasoned and packed,” Harsini said.

How is innovation advancing lab-grown meat?

Early methods of growing meat in a lab were time intensive and difficult to scale, which led food technology companies and researchers alike to develop methods that address the challenges that prevent lab-grown meat from reaching consumers.

Ever After Foods, an Israel-based biotech food company, for example, uses a proprietary scalable bioreactor to produce its cultivated chicken and beef products.

“Rather than relying on traditional suspension technology for cell processing, our proprietary packed-bed solution ensures high solid-to-liquid ratio to increase productivity,” Eyal Rosenthal, CEO, Ever After Foods, explained. The company’s manufacturing plants, he added, will provide a 700% increase in productivity compared to other cultivated meat technology platforms.

Mosa Meat, a Netherlands-based food technology company, too, develops its beef hamburgers in a bioreactor using a small sample collected from healthy cows.

“Apart from the initial cells, no other animal components are needed,” Maarten Bosch, CEO, Mosa Meat, said. “By allowing nature to take its course, the cells naturally merge to become fully fledged muscle fibers and fat—just like they would inside a cow.”

Meatable and Believer, formerly Future Meat Technologies, in 2022 also announced innovations in their cultured meat products.

What’s driving lab-cultivated meat?

Despite the challenges, proponents of lab-cultivated meat contend the technology will provide more sustainable, animal-friendly options compared to traditional meat.

While regulators are opening the doors to cultivated meat products, the products ultimately need to win over consumers in order to be successful in the marketplace.

“There is a lot of initial interest and curiosity in meat alternatives, but consumers will only truly be on board once the cultivated meat industry achieves three key consumer requirements: taste, health and price,” Rosenthal said.

The future is bright: Bosch pointed to research showing 88% of Gen Z, 85% of Millennials, 77% of Gen X and 72% of Baby Boomers said they are open to trying cultivated meat.

And, according to Harsini, progress toward scalable production is promising.

“Companies are investing in large-scale production facilities to meet this demand, with larger-scale production expected to begin in 2025,” Harsini said. “Although the timeline for reaching millions of metric tons remains uncertain, the industry has made significant strides in investment and production.”

Rachel Adams joined Informa’s Health & Nutrition Network in 2013. Her career in the natural products industry started with a food and beverage focus before transitioning into her role as managing editor of Natural Products INSIDER, where she covered the dietary supplement industry. Adams left Informa Markets in 2019.

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