Producing meat in a lab, without the need for extensive agricultural land and resources, cell-cultured meat could be the answer to the question of feeding the world of the future in a safe, efficient, and sustainable way. Yet production processes and sensory attributes are barriers to widescale adoption.
Progress for the cell-cultured meat space
Since Post created the world’s first cell-based beef burger in Maastricht University in 2013, the cultivated meat industry has advanced dramatically. Notable scientific advancements the sector has undergone in the past decade include serum-free formulations and novel cell sources, expression systems in fermentation, and bioprocesses.
These developments have made bioprocesses “simpler and more effective”, according to Post who currently holds the position of chief scientific officer at cultivated meat startup Mosa Meat.
“We saw a reduction of over 65 times in fat medium costs from September 2019 to March 2021 due to [various factors including], the use of serum-free medium, lower grade medium, and the high conversion rate of feed stock in medium to proteins in meat,” he said, speaking at the Future of Protein Production in Amsterdam.
Cost, which has long been an obstacle to the commercialisation of cultivated meat, has reduced over time but remains a major stumbling block for the industry, Post said.
Regulation is another key area that has progressed in recent years, but still poses several challenges for manufacturers of cultivated meat due to a lack of uniformity and varying speeds of adoption across markets, Post pointed out.
Scaling up production is a major barrier to commercialisation
Scaling the production of cell-cultured meat should be a priority for industry stakeholders if cultivated meat is to become commercially viable in future, Post said. To compete with a global meat industry valuing close to $900 billion (€856 billion), the sector will require substantial public and private investment.
Much of this funding will go to the creation of production facilities and bioreactors, which are essential in the processing of cultivated meat products.
“Currently, only a few companies have sufficient funding to scale,” Post said.
Amid a global cost-of-living following a period of record-high inflation, this is proving extra challenging for some companies.
“[Cultivated meat companies] are in a catch-22 situation at the moment as the cost of goods are high, which means they require a lot of money to scale up.”
Focus on improving sensory attributes of cultivated meat, Post advises
When it comes to making food purchasing decisions, consumers continually rank price and taste as top priorities and seek products that are equally as indulgent and satisfying as their animal-based counterparts.
Consumer acceptance and appeal of cell-cultured meat products have previously been considered barriers to widescale adoption but are on the rise. This may be a result of advancements in technology that have allowed brands to produce meat that better resembles traditional meat in taste and texture.
“Consumers only care about quality and price so we need to improve the full thickness of cultivated meat products. We need to improve the quality of muscle and fat to improve consumer acceptance and make meat as a commodity,” said Post, referencing Israeli-foodtech startup Aleph Farms as a good example of progress in this field.
In 2018, Aleph Farms launched the world’s first cell-grown steak with the texture and appearance of whole muscle beef. Earlier this year, the startup announced the development of its first product brand, Aleph Cuts, under which it will launch a cultivated Petit Steak. The brand is expected to launch in Singapore and Israel later in 2023, pending regulatory approval.
To further improve the sensory appeal of cultivated meat products, brands should focus on replacing high concentrate proteins and developing the outstanding steps in the bioprocess over a 30-year horizon, according to Post.
“We should be very happy about progress we’ve made, but we still have a number of small intermediate goals [to achieve]. These are all possible, but it will require some work to get there,” he said.
Could cultivated meat solve the food industry’s biggest issues?
To satisfy soaring consumer demand for meat, production has more than quadrupled globally in the past 50 years. This figure is projected to almost double by 2050, data from the Good Food Institute shows.
The sharp increase in the supply and demand of meat products raises two major areas of concern. Firstly, meat production is detrimental to the environment. Food production is responsible for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, 60% of which is a result of animal agriculture, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Secondly, current methods of meat production are highly unsustainable.
As the global population grows, meat production will fail to satisfy the rising demand and meet global health, food security, climate, and biodiversity targets, the Good Food Institute (GFI) says.
Cultivated meat provides a solution to these issues. A lifecycle analysis conducted by independent research firm CE Delft shows that cell-cultured meat causes up to 92% less global warming and 93% less air pollution and uses up to 95% less land and 78% less water than conventional beef.