Cultured meat: just around the corner?

M. Dent
IDTechEx Ltd,
United Kingdom

Keywords: cultured meat, lab grown meat, clean meat, cell-based meat


The idea of growing meat outside an animal has been around for a long time. In 1931, Winston Churchill wrote that by the 1980s "we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium." Although he was four decades off, his predictions are beginning to materialize as the world looks for new ways to feed its burgeoning population whilst overcoming the environmental problems of conventional animal agriculture. In 2013, Dr Mark Post of Maastricht University cooked and ate the first synthetic burger grown from cultured animal cells in front of a room full of journalists in London. Since then, the field of cultured meat, or "clean meat", has grown rapidly as start-ups worldwide compete to be the first company to bring a cultured meat product to market, with companies such as Memphis Meats, JUST and Aleph Farms demonstrating prototype products. But when will the first products be ready? And will a lab grown steak be finding its way to our tables any time soon? These companies claim that cell culture could be a cheap and efficient way to produce meat without requiring animal slaughter and at a fraction of the environmental cost. Mosa Meat, the start-up founded by Dr Mark Post, claims that a single cell sample can create up to 10,000 kg of cultured meat, with the cultured meat process requiring 99% less land and 96% less water than traditional livestock agriculture. Cultured cells double in number every few days, meaning that cultured meat could also be produced far quicker than conventional meat - Israeli start-up Aleph Farms claims that it can produce a batch of cultured steaks within three weeks, compared with the two years it takes to grow a cow. Investors have responded optimistically, with cultured meat start-ups raising over $125 million since 2015 and investments growing by 85% between 2017 and 2018. High profile backers include Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who helped fund the first synthetic burger grown in 2013. Despite this optimism, cultured meat still has a long way to go before it appears on our dinner tables. The first cultured burger famously cost $280,000 to produce and, whilst costs have come down considerably since then, the price of production remains a challenge. Another major challenge is that of scale up. Producing cultured meat at commercial scale will be extremely challenging - no company yet has a scaled-up facility or supply chains in place. The other major challenge facing the cultured meat industry is government regulation. No jurisdiction has yet approved cultured meat for consumption and regulatory approval could take years, especially in the USA, EU and China, which are likely to be the largest markets. So, when will the first products be ready? This presentation will discuss the benefits and challenges behind cultured meat and explore what needs to happen to make cultured meat a reality.