Meat production has come under increasing public scrutiny in recent years due to concerns related to animal welfare, resources (i.e., land, water, feed) and deforestation, greenhouse gases and climate change, antibiotic resistance, and health. This has led to growing movement to plant-based diets. But it has also spurred research and innovation in the development of meat products using cell-based technology, which was the subject of a symposium on “Clean Meat: Producing Meat Without Animals Using Cell-Culture Technology” on Monday afternoon.
At the session, Liz Specht with The Good Food Institute described the technology behind “test-tube” meat. The two-stage process involves cell starter cultures or cell lines in a bioreactor, where the multiplying cells are nourished in a nutrient media of salts, pH buffers, amino acids, and growth factors. This is followed by a differentiation and maturation stage where cells are seeded onto scaffold-type structures. The edible or biodegradable scaffolds enable the cells to grow and mature into the final meat product (muscle tissue).
Eric Schulze with Memphis Meats discussed his company’s efforts in cultured meat, which have included the production of meatballs, chicken, and duck. Schulze believes there is a huge market potential for “clean” meat—meat produced without the slaughtering of animals. About half of the $1.5 billion global food market is meat products, and 96% of the world’s population eats meat.
According to Schulze, the raising and slaughtering of one steer (which yields about 425 lb of meat) uses 3.5 Olympic-size swimming pools of water. Memphis Meat’s process, which Schulze calls not much different than brewing beer, will use only a couple of bathtubs of water to produce the same amount of product. Schulze noted that it takes about 23 calories of feed to produce 1 calorie of beef; his company’s goal is three input calories per 1 calorie of beef.
In addition to being more resource efficient, cell-culture technology enables meat products to be customized for protein, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and other nutrients. The bacteria-free product offers a longer shelf life than conventional meat, says Schulze. Exposure to light and oxidation of fats is a bigger concern than bacteria.
When Memphis Meats unveiled its prototype meatball in November 2016, the price of the product was $18,000 per lb. In March 2017, when the company showcased its cultured chicken and duck, the price of these products had dropped to about $6,000 per lb. Currently the price is about $3,800 per lb, reported Schulze. Memphis Meats’ goal is to sell its clean meat products at a cost parity to conventional meat by 2021 or sooner, declared Schulze, with a limited distribution to high-end restaurants in 2019.