Dusseldorf A historic milestone for world nutrition, climate protection and animal welfare: In the USA, for the first time, meat can be produced and sold for which no animal has died, but has been bred from cell cultures. The US Department of Agriculture officially approved chicken meat from California food techs Good Meat and Upside Foods on Wednesday.
Nevertheless, the approval in the USA is something special. In no other country in the world is so much beef eaten. Overall, every American consumed an average of more than 100 kilograms of meat in 2022, according to the USDA. The Germans only eat half as much. “The approval heralds a new era in meat production,” says Uma Valeti, CEO of Upside Foods. “In the future, Americans will be able to enjoy delicious meat without having to slaughter billions of animals every year.”
In the USA, too, chicken meat from the bioreactor will initially not be available in supermarkets, but only in gourmet restaurants. Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn serves chicken from Upside in San Francisco. For Good Meat, star chef José Andrés will prepare the meat from the bioreactor in Washington.
Global hunger for meat is growing
As the world population grows, so does the hunger for meat. The global meat market is expected to grow significantly again from 2021 to 2027: from $898 billion to $1.354 trillion, market researcher MMR predicts. The think tank Good Food Institute (GFI) even expects meat consumption to double by 2050.
“Clean meat” from the bioreactor is considered the solution to many of humanity’s problems. Beef, for example, is considered the most climate-damaging food after butter. According to the Federal Environment Agency, 13.3 kilograms of CO2 emissions are released into the atmosphere through one kilogram of beef.
In the life cycle assessment, in-vitro meat performs significantly better than slaughtered meat. The research consultants CE Delft and the GFI determined: If green electricity is used for production, the carbon footprint of beef shrinks by up to 92 percent.
The environment and climate are less burdened
Cultivated meat also requires little land and water. In contrast, one kilogram of beef uses an average of 15,400 liters of water, calculated by the Water Footprint Network. Meat from the bioreactor could thus reduce deforestation, species extinction, environmental pollution and multi-resistant germs caused by antibiotics in factory farming. And fewer animals would have to suffer.
The euphoria about meat from cell cultures was great when biomedicine professor Mark Post, founder of Mosa Meat from Maastricht, presented the world’s first burger from a Petri dish in London in 2013. The Kearney consultancy even predicted a global market share of 35 percent for meat from cell cultures by 2040.
But the breakthrough is yet to come. This is not only due to regulatory, but also to technological hurdles. The scalability left a lot to be desired. The culture medium has been the greatest challenge so far. Initially, it contained growth factors from bovine embryos – which drew animal rights activists into action. But in the meantime, the nutrient solutions can be produced purely from plants.
Rapid progress reduces costs
Breeding meat has made rapid progress in recent years: Dutch food tech Meatable recently announced that it can grow a sausage from cells in eight days. A pig needs eight months to be ready for slaughter. According to the Swiss food tech Mirai, a piece of fillet can mature in five days, the cells of which have been propagated for 20 days beforehand. Cattle are ready for slaughter in 18 to 24 months.
One problem so far has been the high price. Ten years ago, the production costs for the Mosa Meat minced meat patty were 250,000 euros. Mirai’s steak prototype reduced the cost to around 50 euros for 200 grams.
The Heidelberg company The Cultivated B, a subsidiary of Germany’s second largest sausage manufacturer In Family Foods, says it can produce even more cheaply. “In the laboratory, we can grow a kilo of meat from cell cultures for three to five euros,” said co-boss Wolfgang Kühnl recently to the Handelsblatt.
Ultimately, acceptance by meat eaters will be critical to the breakthrough of in vitro meat. The GFI found that 57 percent of Germans would at least try it. Young people under the age of 25 are even more open at 82 percent.
100 companies are working on meat from the bioreactor
Around 100 companies around the world are working on meat or fish from cell cultures, around 30 of them in Europe, according to the GFI. In Germany, these include Bluu Seafood, Innocent Meat, Alife Foods and Cultimate Foods.
In the past two years, such food techs have received around two billion euros in investments worldwide. Large meat groups such as world market leader JBS from Brazil have recognized the future potential. The global number two US group Tyson only took a stake in Upside Foods in January, which has now received approval. Poultry group PHW (Wiesenhof) also cooperates with the start-up Supermeat. The Israelis grow chicken using cells from eggs. PHW intends to launch this once in Europe.
However, research in the EU has so far only been carried out on in-vitro meat. “Europe is falling behind while the rest of the world is accelerating to offer cultured meat as part of a more sustainable food system,” said the GFI. The think tank demands that governments in Germany and Europe must invest in research and development and ensure reliable approval procedures. “Otherwise we risk losing touch with this important climate protection solution and missing out on economic opportunities,” said Ivo Rzegotta from the GFI.
European food techs are looking abroad
Mirai also wants to register its “Clean Meat” for approval in the USA first. “The sales market is larger there,” German founder Christoph Mayr recently told the Handelsblatt. At the same time, Mirai is preparing an application as a novel food in the EU. This is generally considered to be time-consuming and tedious.
When the time comes, the Rügenwalder Mühle wants to produce a burger with farmed beef fat from Mirai and vegetable proteins. “Meat grown from cells is an important topic for the future – in ten years at the latest,” Michael Hähnel, head of the Rügenwalder Mühle, is convinced.
Competitor In Family Foods goes one step further. The Westphalians don’t want to produce meat from cells themselves, but with their Heidelberg company The Cultivated B, they want to provide the complete infrastructure: from cell lines and culture media to bioreactors. The family business has already set up a factory for bioreactors not in Germany, but near Toronto.
Production will start in a few months – very close to the USA, where meat from cell cultures can now be produced and sold. “Because when the EU will allow meat from cell cultures is completely unpredictable,” says entrepreneur Kühnl.
More: Mirai Foods Makes Rapid Advances in In Vitro Meat