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Moving toward a new era for protein production

July 18, 2018

cultured meat

Clean meat, which is meat made using cell culture rather than obtained from animal slaughter, is a very fast-moving field, said Liz Specht, senior scientist with the nonprofit Good Food Institute, speaking in the final session of the alternative protein deep dive session series on Tuesday at IFT18. Within the past year and a half, “there’s been an explosion in the number of companies that are pursuing this technology,” said Specht, citing strategic investment in cultured meat start-ups by food industry giants Cargill and Tyson as further evidence of its promise and potential. But don’t expect overnight developments.  

“If you twist my arm and ask me when you think this will be in grocery stores, I would say it would be closer to 10 years time than five years, said session presenter Peter Verstrate, CEO of pioneering Netherlands-based cultured meat company Mosa Meat, founded in 2016. The company has many hurdles to surmount prior to commercializing a cultured meat product, Verstrate emphasized. He said that navigating the European regulatory process will take a minimum of two years, and there is still much work to be done in the lab on the production of meat tissue as well as scaling up production, developing the supply chain, and more. 

Session presenter Marianne Ellis, an associate professor at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, said reducing the cost of clean meat production is critical to progress. To this end, she detailed four key areas in which progress must be made: reducing the cost of the media used for tissue production; design optimization of bioreactors used to produce clean meat; production system integration; and waste valorization.  

“This is an incredibly exciting time to be working on policy related to clean meat,” said presenter Jessica Almy, director of policy at the Good Food Institute. However, while the United States is arguably in the lead in terms of clean meat research, the U.S. government has made little investment in the field, said Almy, citing countries like Japan and Israel, where clean meat technology has reaped the benefit of government support. “There’s a really huge opportunity for the United States to invest public research dollars” in clean meat, she claimed.  

Just last week, Almy said, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hosted a public meeting on the topic of regulating clean or cultured meat. At the meeting, she noted, the FDA commissioner said the agency is well qualified to regulate clean meat production. “The fact that the FDA has very clearly asserted its authority is very significant,” Almy observed.