Lab-grown meat: when will it hit shelves? – Positive news RS News

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For years, lab-grown meat has been touted as the next sustainable protein alternative. But it has not yet appeared in supermarkets. So what’s going on behind the scenes? Positive News talks to the CEO of a company that pioneered this innovation

It looked like the kind of cheap burger served on a greasy roadside spoon, but when Cornish chef Richard McGeown slid his ground beef puck into a pan of sizzling oil in 2013, it marked a moment in culinary history.

McGeown’s burger was the first in the world to be grown in a lab and, at a staggering £215,000, by some margin also the most expensive.

But that was almost a decade ago, and while McGeown’s hack served as a tantalizing taster of things to come, the world is still waiting for the sustainable food innovation that could help save our planetary bacon. Scientists have done a good job of selling us the idea of ​​lab-grown meat, so why hasn’t it made its way into our kitchens yet?

“I would say that cultured meat is much more advanced than most of the public knows,” enthuses Märt-Erik Martens, CEO of Estonian startup Gelatexa major player in this emerging market. “Businesses are accelerating; they have pilot production facilities that are being installed or are already operational. The key components are more or less developed and in place. But you have to remember: You can’t look at this the same way as alternative plant-based meats, because it’s totally different. It’s much more complicated.”

Does lab-grown meat have the potential to save our planetary bacon? Image: Amirali Mirhashemian.

gelatex won the Callejón Verde Award 2019 – an award scheme that encourages circular economy start-ups – with a unique synthetic leather spun from gelatin nanofibers. Two years ago, he pivoted to help cultured meat producers overcome a major manufacturing headache.

Lab-grown meat is made by culturing muscle tissue that is grown from a small sample of stem cells taken from a living animal. Using plant-based polymers instead of gelatin, Gelatex created an edible ‘nanofiber tissue’, which provides a cotton candy-like textural ‘scaffold’ for these cultured meat cells. Without scaffolding, the finished dish would look less like a slab of prime sirloin and more like a soft scoop of Brussels. crown.

Although Martens is reluctant to name names, it says it is working with eight out of 10 of the world’s top cultured meat producers. But while nanofibers from it have been used successfully to create prototypes of lab-grown seafood and chicken fillets, these new foods need the rubber stamp of government approval before they can be sold to the public.

“Regulation is the main challenge,” says Martens. “This is a completely new approach to meat production, so you can’t take the regulations of conventional farming and apply them to farmed meat products. Fortunately, this is being worked on in several different regions.”

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In the lead is Singapore. The Southeast Asian country gave the green light to selling cultured meat to the public in 2020, and US startup Eat Just tested its lab-grown chicken bites there the following year. They were priced at a loss-making $16 (£14.30) a serving, about a third of the cost of growing a single pip.

And therein lies another barrier.

Price parity with conventional meat can only be achieved by increasing production, and the investment manufacturers need to increase the size of key technologies, such as the bioreactors in which the meat is grown, will only come after approval. of food regulators.

“It’s like the chicken and the egg,” Martens jokes. “The facility must be able to produce tons of product. The technology is almost there, but the scale is not. This is tissue engineering on an industrial scale, something that has never been done before.”

Regulators in the US, Israel and China are hot on Singapore’s heels. In the near future, perhaps within the next year, Martens believes we’ll start to see cultured meats in select, upscale restaurants at a premium price.

“As they should be, because they really take a lot of effort to make,” he notes, adding that it could be another four or five years before we add mass-produced cultured meats to our grocery carts.

lab grown meat

Gelatex co-founders Mari-Ann Fonseca and Märt-Erik Martens inspect their edible “scaffolding.” Image: Gelatex.

Conventional mud-and-wellboot farmers are understandably wary of being displaced by the rapid advance of dazzling new technology. Ecologist George Monbiot raised a grudge with his book, Regenesis, which praises another lab solution for growing food proteins: precision fermentation. Instead of culturing stem cells, he uses genetically modified yeast and bacteria to produce similar meat analogues.

However, some advocates of cultured meat they insist that farmers will continue to have a vital role to play in this brave new world. Seren Kell, science and technology manager at the Good Food Institute think tank, is one of them.

“Meat cell culture still needs input from agriculture: crops like tobacco, soybeans, and chickpeas are broken down and used as ingredients in cell culture media,” he says. “Farmers can and must play a key role in the transition to what would be a more sustainable food supply.”

Inevitably, growing crops to produce cell packs rather than whole animals means reducing agriculture’s burden on overall land use.

“That’s a great opportunity,” says Kell. “You’re freeing up land for things like carbon capture and storage, rebuilding, or more nature-friendly practices like organic and regenerative agriculture. Farmers can be part of or lead any of those things, but they need governments to support them, help them adapt and identify what that role might look like.”

Farmers can and should play a key role in the transition to what would be a more sustainable food supply

The prize, says Martens, is “the holy grail of meat alternatives” in terms of sustainability.

Half of the world’s habitable land is used for agricultureand more than three-quarters of that goes into livestock production, either for pasture or growing animal feed, while meat bills for 60 percent of all greenhouse gases from the food industry. By contrast, cultured meat could, in theory, be grown in a lab powered by renewable energy, freeing up millions of acres.

At the same time, the sterile conditions required to grow meat cell cultures would largely eliminate the need for the large amounts of antibiotics currently being pumped into farm animals, estimated at nearly 70 percent of the world total.

“If you think about it, there hasn’t been a major innovation in meat production for 10,000 years, not since we started raising animals instead of hunting them.” says Martens, as he embarks on a Funding round of €15 million (£13.2 million) to finance a pilot production facility.

What this unlocks when we have the scale is the most sustainable meat in human history.”

Or at least, one of a mix of solutions for a more sustainable food future

Lead image: Gelatex co-founders Mari-Ann Fonseca and Märt-Erik Martens. Credit: Gelatex.


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