In 2013 a Dutch laboratory successfully cultured* beef, cooked it as a burger and then patented it. Since then, the development of cultured meat has been significant in both the incubation processes and the end products. The liquid growth medium is now free from animal-derived components. The meat is more complex, resembling grocery-bought products.
*”Cultured” means “grown from cells in a lab”
In 2018 an Israeli company succeeded in culturing beef steak. In December 2020, a US-based company in Singapore sold the first cultured chicken in restaurants both as nuggets and breast. Furthermore, a Singaporean company culturing seafood including lobster, shrimp, and crab meat anticipates its products hitting the market by the end of 2021. The Dutch hope to have cultured pork approved with regulation within three years.
The advancement of the growth medium is due to “refining a previous formulation, the 19-ingredient TeSR medium, to eliminate unnecessary factors (animal-based) including albumin.”1 Essential 8 ™ is the modified medium, and it “has been demonstrated to work well for derivation and prolonged maintenance of stem cells” (Ibid.). It replaces the complex metabolism functions of cells derived from cow fetuses.
Animal components replaced
Essential 8 ™ (table 1 below2) includes the essential growth factors and the basal medium. The basal medium consists of fifty-two components (table 2.25) of non-animal origin including sugar, vitamins, and amino acids. These provide the nutrients for cell growth. The essential growth factors that promote the regenerative and metabolic functions of the cell are proteins and insulin.
Government research funding is needed
These advances renew the prospect to solve the problems of the conventional meat industry that impact human health, animal welfare, and ecology. Unfortunately, a high medium cost of $377 per liter 3 keeps it from being marketable and available in the near future.
The final product price of $4 per gram equates to around $600 for an average 150-gram portion. The current rate of production growth will take a decade or more to build the industrial infrastructure that allows it to reach the cost parity of conventional meat. However, a massive increase in government research investment would accelerate innovation by encouraging other industries to converge their resources in this field. This would help develop the needed efficiencies and cost-saving processes to make cultured meat competitive within the market.
Edit below on August 6th, 2021
From $4/gram to $4/100 grams
Since first posting this article, there have been new significant advances in cultured meat industrial processes that are worth mentioning. On June 23, 2021, Future Meat, the Israeli company mentioned above, announced opening the first industrial cultured meat processing plant in Israel. They have essentially taken the technology out of the lab. It can produce 500 KG of cultured meat a day with an equivalent output of 5,000 burgers. Prof. Yaakov Nahmias, founder and chief scientific officer of Future Meat Technologies, says, “the facility can produce cultured chicken, pork, and lamb, without the use of animal serum or genetic modification, with the production of beef coming soon.” The company claims its unique platform enables fast production cycles—about 20 times faster than traditional animal agriculture.” Nahmias continues, “having a running industrial line accelerates key processes such as regulation and product development. After demonstrating that cultured meat can reach cost parity faster than the market anticipated, this production facility is the real game-changer.”5 This will reduce the final product cost significantly from $4 a gram to $4 per 100 grams. Their goal for next year is to reduce the cost further by half. “Future Meat Technologies aims to reach shelves in the United States in 2022 and is currently in the process of approving its production facility with regulatory agencies in multiple territories. The company is eyeing several locations in the United States for its projected expansion.”6 The USDA has already begun preliminary work along with the FDA to establish the labeling guidelines for cultured meats products in the US.
Written by Trevor Yoho