Future Meat Technologies, an Israeli company that exclusively develops lab-grown meat, has announced its plans to build the world’s first cultured meat production plant.
Cultured meat, also known as ‘clean’ or cell-based meat, is made from animal stem cells that can grow into muscle fibres. This, effectively, bypasses the need for industrial livestock production.
Future Meats secured US$14 million Series A funding in October 2019, making it the second largest investment in the cultured meat industry to date (after Memphis Meats’ secured a US$17 million grant in 2017). This funding will go towards further product R&D as well as building the new plant. The start-up aims to start plant operations in 2020 and selling ‘hybrid’ products – a blend of plant protein with cultured meat – by 2021 and entirely cultured meat products by 2022 at cost-competitive levels with conventional meat.
Livestock production is currently responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. If we are to remain under a 1.5°C trajectory for global heating, current meat production and consumption habits will need to change. Plant-based protein is gaining wide-spread popularity – you can even buy ‘bleeding’ plant-based burgers - but there are certain compounds within meat that plants cannot naturally mimic. Cultured meat offers the closest resemblance to conventional meat but carries a far smaller environmental impact: Future Meat’s claims their products will have 80% fewer GHG emissions, use 99% less land and 96% less fresh water.
Recognising the environmental benefits of cultured versus conventional meat, the cultured meat industry has rapidly evolved and expanded in recent years, with more than US$85 million invested since 2015. Yet while there are approximately 30 companies around the world currently developing lab-grown meat, few are ready to scale production to commercial scale. This is due to the high cost of production1 and inhibitory policies and regulations. This could be set to change, however, and Future Meat’s facility will put Israel toe-to-toe with the US and Singapore as a potential introductory market for cultured meat.
But before it can come to our plates, issues around the labelling of cultured meat products will need to be resolved. Opinions, too, will likely change – a study conducted in 2017 found that 43% of Americans would prefer to eat conventional meat even when cultured meat is the same price because they perceive ‘clean’ meat as unnatural. The same could have been said about GM foods or raw fish sushi, even, but both are now widespread and popular across the US.
The advance of cultured meat could result in a decline of traditional agriculture, however. While the food system needs reforming in line with climate targets and our protein sources need diversifying, this requires a just transition. Where, then, does cultured meat fit into a sustainable future of food?
- 1. The world’s first ‘clean’ hamburger cost roughly US$325,000 in 2013. There have since been advances in the efficiency of culturing processes and the price of ‘clean’ meat has fallen considerably and Future Meats believe they can cut the cost to roughly US$3 per pound by 2020.