The cultured meat industry is a young but revolutionary industry, with the potential to change agricultural practices and human meat consumption as we know it. Cultured meat refers to meat created using cell culture techniques within a laboratory or manufacturing facility. It is produced by growing stem cells collected from cattle, chicken, pigs, fish, lamb, and other livestock and then differentiating them into the various meat components, such as muscle and adipose tissue.
Research into cultured meat emerged in the early 2000s and soon it surged in volume. In 2002, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was the first to fund research and produce cultured turkey and a golden fish meat fillet. In 2013, the world’s first cultured beef hamburger was launched at the hefty cost of nearly $330,000.
By 2050, the most important challenge for humanity will be to feed a population this is expected to rise to 10-15 billion people. Globally, people today consume more than 300 million tons of meat. By 2050, the meat industry will have to supply over 500 million tons of meat per year to support global consumption and potentially more.
Conventional vs. Cultured Meat Production
The conventional method of meat production is to breed, raise, and slaughter whole animals. This traditional method takes a long time, consumes large amounts of water and land resources, uses vast amounts of fuel energy, and causes severe environmental pollution. Moreover, the epidemics of African swine fever, avian flu, and other animal diseases bring unneeded risks to traditional livestock production.
Cultured meat is now being considered a promising solution to mitigate concerns related to livestock agriculture. Cultured meat is also referred to as “lab-grown meat”, which is produced by ex vivo culture of animal cells by utilizing techniques from the fields of cell biology, tissue biology, and food engineering.
Usually, the stem cells are extracted from an animal’s body and then expanded and differentiated ex vivo to produce muscle fibers, fat, or other cell types that compose muscle tissue. Then, these cells are harvested and assembled to form meat end-products. Cultured meat processing is sometimes enhanced through techniques such as molding, coloring and seasoning.
The Rise of Cultured Meat
While research into cultured meat started in the early 2000s, it has surged in volume since that time. In 2002, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was the first to fund research and produce cultured turkey and a golden fish meat fillet. In 2013, the world’s first cultured beef hamburger was launched at a cost of nearly $330,000.
In spite of these high costs, the success of cultured meat technology attracted the attention of people from different walks of life, including scientists, entrepreneurs, and investors.
The potential of cultured meat has captured the imagination of investors, researchers, and consumers alike. Although the cultured meat industry has only existed for only two decades, 2020 was a turning point because a cultured chicken product developed by the company “Eat Just” made its debut at a restaurant menu in Singapore. This regulatory approval for a cultured chicken product within Singapore was a welcome sign that could pave the way for regulatory approvals in other countries.
The industry’s commercial landscape for cultured meat production now includes roughly a hundred different start-up companies focused on developing cultivated meat components, services, and end-products. Nearly 40 life science firms have publicly declared and formally launched products to supply cultured meat companies with the essential inputs they need to support cultured meat production. After initial small-scale manufacturing within a laboratory setting, a few companies have started manufacturing cultured meat at “pilot scale” (meaning, at moderate scale). Thus far, only a few market competitors have ventured into industrial-scale production of cultured meat products.
Flow of Capital Into Cultured Meat Production
The flow of capital into the cultured meat industry has also steadily grown over the past five years to over a billion annually. Investments in 2020 alone were more than $360 million and this was six times (6X) more than that was invested in 2019. Funding for cultivated meat and seafood companies surged again in 2021, reaching a total of $1.4 billion.
Some of the major investments were Cargill’s investment into Memphis Meats and Aleph Farms and investments by Tyson Foods Venture Fund into Memphis Meats and Future Meat Technologies. Also, the cultured meat industry saw its first Series B funding rounds and the first ever public-sector R&D funding in 2020 in both the United States (U.S.) and the European Union (EU).
Furthermore, the international science community is now recognizing cultured meat as a valuable research topic. The public sector has started funding cultured meat research centers and important research findings have been published within prestigious, peer-reviewed scientific journals. While research scientists have made several notable breakthroughs related to the cultured meat manufacturing, the market still needs to achieve price parity with conventional meat manufacturing and overcome bottlenecks related to the industrial-scale production of cultured meat products.
While the rate and type of recent developments suggest that the industry is still in its infancy, its trajectory will ultimately lead to price competitiveness (and potentially even advantages) over traditional, farm produced meat. This year in 2022, we are witnessing rapid prototyping, as well as development of scalable manufacturing processes in pilot plants. By 2025, industrial-scale production is anticipated to begin.