A world without slaughter? Inside the “clean” meat revolution


09 Jan 2019 --- The new era of cultured meat production is well and truly underway and a world without slaughter could be the future. Lab-grown meat is about more than just saving animals’ lives, although animal welfare and ethics are strong drivers for shifting consumer preferences. The clean meat revolution represents a seismic technological shift for humanity, with strong potential sustainability messages.

As the world learns more about the environmental impacts of climate change – with a huge reduction of meat eating needed to avoid a climate breakdown – and the risks to sustainable food production, including livestock, the goal of removing animals from meat production continues apace with innovation coming from all over the world. As some of the world’s leading science academies declared late last year: “the world needs to fix it’s broken global food system” to avoid catastrophe. 

In November 2018, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reached an agreement on the process for approving cell cultured meat. The news was tipped as a spell a step forward in bringing cell-cultured food to the mainstream consumer. Shortly after, the founding innovator behind the world’s first lab-grown hamburger, Mark Post, MD, Ph.D., Professor of Physiology at Maastricht University, welcomed the announcement but said that it could still take up to a decade until we really see “clean” meat take shape.

Many lab-grown meat start-ups, including Israeli company, Aleph Farms, believe that we will see more lab-grown meat in the future and “clean” meat becomes a more viable solution for consumers who are concerned about animal welfare and sustainable protein solutions. 

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“Everyone understands the challenges associated with the current way meat is produced (sustainability, animal welfare, public health: antibiotics and foodborne illnesses). The plant-based and cultured meat innovations are addressing those challenges in a very different way,” explains Didier Toubia, CEO of Aleph Farm, which is shaping the future of food by producing cell-grown meat that resembles free range meat. 

Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst he describes on the one hand, the new plant-based meat substitutes are improved vegetarian hamburgers, intended to support a transition of more consumers towards a plant-based diet, but today, meat-substitutes account for less than 1 percent of the total meat market.

“Cultured meat is solving the issues with meat production while offering real meat at the end- not a meat substitute. Only the production method differs and is more sustainable and ethical. Plant-based meat substitutes will continue to gain momentum, but will not contain the growth of the meat industry on its own. The production of beef increased 3.3 percent in the US in 2018. Cultured will continue to improve and will solve scalability issues toward first launches in 2021-2023.”

Aleph Farms is growing high-quality, real meat cuts from cells isolated from a cow. Not only animal cells to be mixed with other ingredients to make a patty. The company believes that the ability to reproduce the “true experience of meat” is critical for the industry.

“Meat is a complex tissue made of various types of cells interacting together into a specific 3D structure granting meat its texture. This competitive advantage has been achieved thanks to the collaboration with Prof. Levenberg at the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology,” Toubia adds. 

Mosa Meat, a spin-off company from Maastricht University which was behind the world’s first hamburger made directly from cow cells back in 2013, has raised €7.5 million (US$8.8 million) to bring cultured meat to market by 2021. The Dutch food start-up first inspired the emergence of an entirely new industry through pioneering work and proving the concept of cultured meat five years ago and now it’s currently developing its first commercial products.

Click to EnlargeSarah Luca, Head of Strategy & Communications at Mosa Meat Sarah Luca, Head of Strategy & Communications, explains to FoodIngredientsFirst what’s in store for this year and the huge challenges involved in bringing products to market. 

“2019 is going to be a big year for Mosa Meat. Having raised our Series A in 2018, we are now rapidly expanding our team to 30 people. Over the next few years, this team will be creating the scalable production process that can bring cultured meat to market in a price-competitive and animal-free way, and also going through the regulatory process. We aim to have our first product on the market on a small scale in 2021,” she says. 

“We are really focused on getting a first product to market using a production process that is scalable. This is an enormous scientific, technological, economic and organizational challenge. For us, speed is not the only important measure. We are also very committed to producing a product that is of high quality, and as close as possible to livestock meat,” she adds.

“This means using fully differentiated tissue, an approach that Mosa Meat is pioneering. We are also working on 3D structures (such as steaks) so that, not too long after we introduce ground meat products to market, we will be able to bring the full spectrum of cultured meat products to market. This is what is needed to truly disrupt the meat industry,” she explains. 

Plant-based proteins

Alongside the “clean meat revolution” and the race to get cultured meat products to market, the plant-based protein market is experiencing a boom right now as global tastes shift towards a more sustainable and healthier diet. 

As more consumers are becoming aware of the impact of animal-based protein sources on the environment, particularly with regards to climate change, while also understanding the need for increasing the production of food as our population continues to grow, they are becoming more open to sustainable and alternative protein sources. 

Plantible Foods, the creators of a sustainable, allergen-free protein derived from lemna (also known as duckweed), has also recently completed a pre-seed funding round led by Unshackled Ventures, an early-stage fund for immigrant-founded start-ups based in Silicon Valley. With the investment, the amount of which has not been disclosed, Plantible Foods says it will finalize its proprietary extraction technology and work with leading food scientists on the commercialization of its ingredients. 

Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, Co-Founders of Plantible Foods Tony Martens and Maurits van de Ven explain their belief that both plant-based and cultured meat will coexist. 

“Both trends focus on introducing more sustainable, healthier and cruelty-free protein sources to the consumer,” says Martens. “In the end consumer preferences will always differ, as taste, texture, price and personal beliefs guide each individual in their purchasing decision.”

Click to Enlarge“Nevertheless, we think that there is a way for cultured and plant-based protein producers to work alongside each other. Potential collaborations can lead to more affordable, better tasting and/or healthier shelf stable product formulations.”

“2019 may be the year that the consumer sees the first partially cultured meat products in stores or on menus. There are numerous companies with initiatives working on potential breakthrough technologies, and with the first (hybrid) products coming to market, the industry might get more positive stimulant from governmental, financial and strategic stakeholders,” he adds. 

Van de Ven notes the numerous drivers that influence the increasing demand for plant-based proteins:global population growth, natural resource scarcity, global climate change and animal cruelty.

“They all lead to an increasing demand for sustainable and renewable plant-based protein sources. Our focus is to combine lemna culture farming practices with unique processing technologies in order to develop plant-based food ingredients that help plant-based CPG brands win over the hearts of consumers. We will continue to work with industry partners to identify how our ingredient can cater to their needs and result in a better tasting, more affordable and healthier product,” he concludes,

What’s Next?

It’s clear those in the clean and cultured meat space think 2019 will represent strides forward in terms of research and development – all the time working towards a day when clean meat will be as accepted by consumers as meat from slaughters animals. Investment is growing in this industry and the next five years are expected to bring a multitude of innovation.

By Gaynor Selby

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