Are lab-produced foods a passing trend or a growing industry?
Regardless of where you look, food is big business. It’s understandable, since it is necessary, but many would argue that the current markets are unsustainable.
Take meat, for example. Currently, the US meat markets are worth around $6.9bn. In the UK, the size of the meat wholesaling market is around £10bn, which sounds large until you compare it to Germany, which weighs in at a hefty €21bn. (Source of figures).
Meat is a massive market around the world – so why change anything?
Why the emerging interest (and huge investments) into lab-grown foods? Well, as you may well have already guessed, the answer is sustainability. Or rather – a lack of it.
Not that the food markets or meat products are struggling – business is booming as the figures above testify. But the climate impact of these food products is something that, many would argue, is unsustainable.
The ecological impact of raising this many animals is overburdening the planet and contributing to global warming. And it’s not just the ‘cow-farts’ that are the problem – but the sheer amount of water and other resources required to raise the herds is something we cannot afford to keep doing, many say.
On the other side of the coin, there is a large group who still debate how much the industry actually contributes to global warming, however, our purpose here today is not to stray into that debate at all.
Instead, we are looking at lab-grown foods since, whatever the final verdict is on the climate impact, the fact of the matter is that the argument has spurred on massive investment in food alternatives – lab-grown and tech-based – and this is very much at the heart of what FoodTechDigest.com loves to explore.
The emergence of lab-grown foods
We have already taken a look at lab-grown salmon, so if you are familiar with that article, then you probably know some of what is coming next.
Lab-grown meat first appeared (in public) back in 2013, when a single hamburger was created by Professor Mark Post. His prototype burger cost around €250,000 to develop and took five years to develop.
Roll on to 2021, and more investment has been made, by many people, and as technology is evolving, so prices are beginning to drop. As with all things new to market, lab-grown meat will not become commonplace until prices are somewhat closer to the cost of the thing they are trying to replace.
It is important to stress that here, we are not talking about meat substitutes, such as the plant-based products created by Impossible Foods and others; rather, we are here discussing real meat, grown from real animal cells, but in a lab.
Think of it as growing a batch of chicken breasts for consumption, rather than growing chickens in order to harvest the breast and discard the rest.
Back to costs. Today, with the technological advances, prices have fallen from €250,000 per burger, but we are not quite there yet.
The target price for meat is parity with today’s real meat value; current estimates seem to suggest that by 2030, production costs (not the retail price) could be as low as $5.66 per kg. And in addition, for beef at least, the energy required to produce it could reduce global warming impacts by 85% – and land use by up to 95% (compared to live cattle).
If the real figures come anywhere close to that, then probably a large percentage of the meat-eating population would happily pay a little extra to gain all the benefits.
So how exactly is lab-grown meat
If you want a detailed breakdown, then there is no better explanation than the one laid out over at bistro-invitro.com. (While you are there, you can also choose from their menu and even ‘book’ a reservation in their restaurant for 2030).
However, the real challenge is not the mechanics (which are well understood) but the scalability of the process.
The reason lab-grown meat is so expensive is the huge amount of time and resources that are currently required to produce even enough to make one classic burger.
Or at least that was the case.
Enter Future Meat Technologies. An Israeli startup that is changing the face of lab-grown meat in an unprecedented fashion.
Founded in 2018, and attracting funding from the likes of Tyson Foods and Bits x Bites (among others), Future Meat Technologies have created the world’s first industrial production line for cultured meat.
This, they say, makes scalable cell-based meat production a reality. As they explain, they are the first company in the industry to break a significant price record – just $3.90 for a cultured chicken breast.
They go on to explain that they are rapidly scaling to produce sustainable cultured meat production by 2023, using a unique technology that produces yields 10x higher than current industry standards.
After just 4 funding rounds, they have garnered an impressive $40.8m and are well on their way to achieving their goal.
It’s an exciting time for lab-grown meats, and if Future Meat Technologies can bring the retail product to market within the next couple of years, they will certainly be paving the way for a meat-eating revolution.
Watch this space!