Table is Ready: In-vitro Meat Will Hit the Shelves in 5 Years
Prof Mark Post at Maastricht University and his team have just started up a company to produce in-vitro meat on a mass scale.
According to their announcement, they are likely to deliver their first product in five years.
What is In-Vitro Meat?
In-vitro meat, sometimes called lab-grown meat or cultured meat, is a kind of meat produced through cell culture and tissue engineering techniques.
To be more specific, you take stem cells out of livestock and grow the cells in cell-culture dish so that the cells grow into muscle and fat tissues that closely resemble ground meat in looks, taste, texture.
The core technologies share a lot in common with those used in regenerative medicine. Growing meat in a glass dish sounds strange enough, but the essence of those technologies is to create an environment where cells and tissues grow outside the bodies of living organisms.
Why Grow Meat in Lab?
The primary reason why in-vitro meat has been attracting much attention is that in-vitro meat production is cruelty-free and eco-friendly.
University of Oxford and University of Amsterdam estimates that “In comparison to conventionally produced European meat, cultured meat involves approximately 7–45% lower energy use (only poultry has lower energy use), 78–96% lower GHG emissions, 99% lower land use, and 82–96% lower water use depending on the product compared”.
Some proponents also point out its potential, positive health effects, including reduction in saturated fat and in the possibility of colon cancer.
Now that the world’s population is reaching 9 billions, in-vitro meat can be a cruelty-free, eco-friendly, and healthy alternative that can satisfy the increasing demand for meat.
Challenge: Mass Production
Despite those great benefits of in-vitro meat, the aforementioned Dutch team reported that the cost it takes to produce a in-vitro meat hamburger amounted to the surprising $300,000, including all the research and development costs.
Since hardly anyone will not consume something so expensive like this, the Dutch team is expected to develop the ways to scale the production process and lower the costs up to the point ordinary consumers can enjoy in-vitro meat on a day-to-day basis.
According to the team, the price of in-vitro meat hamburger will be as low as $11, but that is nevertheless expensive compared with most of the meat products you can purchase at nearby grocery stores. For this reason, the newly created company will likely appeal to the affluent market segment with great concerns over the environment and animal-cruelty.
Even if the company turns out to be successful in research and development, FDA must approve its product before it hits the shelves. The time-consuming process of FDA approval and the development of market-ready product are probably the two primary reasons why the Dutch team announced that their first product will be ready in 5 years.
“Perfect Texture, But…”
No matter how cruelty-free, eco-friendly, and/or healthy, in-vitro meat won’t fill as many stomachs as it hopes unless it’s actually yummy.
One participant in a tasting party said “”I was expecting the texture to be more soft… there is quite some intense taste; it’s close to meat, but it’s not that juicy. The consistency is perfect, but I miss salt and pepper”.
The reason why it’s not juicy is that the sample was produced only with muscle cells.
The meat we eat everyday contains large amounts of fats, which happens to be the greatest factor of tastiness. With further advances in both the muscle and fat tissue engineering techniques, in-vitro meat may even woo the gourmets of Food Network.
More to Follow
The Dutch team is not the only ones developing in-vitro meat.
In the States, too, Modern Meadow has been developing in-vitro meat and leather products using 3D bio-printing techniques.
And we, Shojin Meat ( www.shojinmeat.com ), are one of those organizations aiming to produce in-vitro meat as a sustainable alternative for meat production.
Our vision is aligned with Asia’s 3500 year long philosophy of how we should reconcile our need for survival with the care for all living things.
Emphasizing accountability as much as research and development, we will try our best to communicate with the public and deepen their understandings of our technologies here at Medium.