From the Petri dish to your plate? “Clean meat” evangelists need a tasty slogan to sell their Christmas turkey products to omnivores. But decent marketing is the least of the challenges facing the nascent industry. Growing meat from animal cells at sufficient scale is the real issue.
A global population of 8.5bn by 2030 will be eating a third more meat per person than it did in the 1990s, claims the UN. Traditional animal production uses vast quantities of water and feed, releases methane and encourages deforestation. Protecting the planet requires more vegetarians and protein substitutes. Cell-based meat is produced by in vitro cell cultivation instead of from slaughtered animals. This method emits 96 per cent fewer greenhouse gases and sucks up 98 per cent less water compared with farmed meat, according to Cellular Agriculture Society, an advocacy group.
When presented with such stats, two-thirds of Americans surveyed said they would try meat grown from cells. Global meat consumption is about 300m tonnes each year, worth roughly $1tn, so even a small slice of the market is attractive. More than 30 companies aim to commercialise cell-derived meat. Dutch group Mosa Meat has funding from Bell Food Group, Switzerland’s largest meat producer, and Merck. US food giant Tyson has invested in Memphis Meats, based in California.
But mass consumption requires affordability. A burger made by Mosa Meat five years ago cost €250,000. It plans to cut this down to €50 to €100 per kilo by 2021 — a price comparable with luxury foods. Cutting prices requires a scalable production method. Making sufficient growth medium, containing sugars, micronutrients and amino acids, will be tricky.
So will navigating regulatory oversight. Winning approval means a level of transparency that will slow pioneers down. That is no bad thing.
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