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Ushering in next cell-based era: Food tech sector hails tenth anniversary of cultivated meat burger

01 Aug 2023 --- This Saturday will mark the ten-year anniversary since the first cell-cultured meat burger made its debut, with the nascent alternative protein now generally considered a scalable option to reduce industry’s reliance on factory-farmed produce and agricultural inputs. In recognition of this decade of research, proponents of the science are acknowledging key milestones in the burgeoning sector.

So far, only two companies have received regulatory approval for their cultivated meat products – GOOD Meat and UPSIDE Foods, so they are the market leaders at the moment. “However, there are dozens of companies around the world now planning to scale up production and apply for regulatory approval,” Carlotte Lucas, senior corporate engagement manager at the international nonprofit Good Food Institute (GFI) tells Food Ingredients First.

“Right now, the cultivated meat field is dominated by startups who are driving innovation, but as the sector matures we expect to see an increasing number of partnerships between startups and major food industry players. Already, we've seen Aleph Farms partner with leading retailer Migros as they apply for regulatory approval in Switzerland.”

Lucas adds that a “diverse ecosystem is a healthy one,” underscoring that government investment in open-access research will be “essential to democratizing progress in this field” and keeping the market open to players of all shapes and sizes.

More than 150 companies worldwide are now working on cultivated meat and seafood – around 50 of which are in Europe. Among significant highlights, Israel’s Aleph Farms applied to Swiss regulators to begin selling cultivated beef last month – the first such application in Europe.

Peer-reviewed research by GFI has found that cultivated meat made using renewable energy could reduce climate emissions by up to 92%, reduce air pollution by up to 94% and use up to 90% less land compared with conventional beef.

Asia’s “garden city” leads on expedited food-tech
Dutch scientist Dr. Mark Prost unveiled the first cultivated beef burger at an event in London on August 5, 2013. That burger took more than two years and €250,000 (US$274,300) to make.

“Cultivated meat is very much a European innovation. Its foundations were laid by French and Dutch scientists, and this week marks ten years since the Netherlands’ Dr. Mark Post traveled to London to present his pioneering beef burger to the world,” remarks Alex Mayers, managing director of GFI Europe.

A decade since the first cultivated burger was plated, a key milestone was the introduction of the cultivated chicken skewer, made available in Singapore for just US$14. As a pioneering market for the expedited rollout of commercialized cell-based products, Singaporean regulators were notably the first to greenlight lab-grown chicken for human consumption.

Singapore’s government has been actively establishing open discussion platforms to ensure knowledge sharing between industry and academia, which has led to – among other advances – scientists at the National University of Singapore developing an affordable, sustainable and edible cell culture scaffold based on corn, barley and rice flours.

Following Singapore, the Netherlands became the first European country to greenlight cultivated meat and seafood tastings last month. Cellular Agriculture Netherlands is the body tasked with executing the National Growth Fund, which plans to invest €252 to €382 million (US$272 million to US$413 million) in cellular agriculture.

Dutch start-up Meatable is one pioneering firm that claims it can produce cultivated pork products in “just eight days.” The company’s process was explored in further detail in a Food Ingredients First exclusive interview with Meatable’s CEO and co-founder, Krijn de Nood.

More recently, it was announced that consumers in the US can enjoy cultivated chicken after two companies received regulatory approval in June. Good Meat’s USDA approval for its cultivated chicken to enter interstate commerce was championed as a “historic step” in the US food industry.

“The progress made over the past decade is remarkable – but we’re still a long way off making this sustainable option available to everyone,” says Mayers at GFI.

“With other parts of the world beginning to race ahead, the EU and national governments must invest in cultivated meat to ensure its benefits are felt here in Europe.”

International funding for R&D is ramping up
European governments are stepping up support to fund research and development, with the Netherlands announcing a record €60 million (US$65.8 million) last year and the UK announcing a £12 million (US$15.4 million) research center in April.

Europe’s cultivated meat companies saw private investments jump 30% to €120 million (US$131.7 million) last year, according to the GFI.

Last June, GEA opened a Food Application and Technology Center of Excellence in Germany, slated as a central hub for piloting processes and products for the alternative protein industry. The supplier’s food experts will operate the factory’s cell cultivation pilot line to fast-track innovations from the lab to commercial-scale manufacturing.

In the Middle East, Israel’s Steakholder Foods announced a deal last month with the Gulf Cooperation Council to advance food security efforts by commercializing its 3D fish bioprinting technology. The public-private sector alliance seeks to alleviate food security threats in the region.

One key challenge for the growing cell-based sector is bringing down the cost of the cell culture media, or cell feed, which is the most expensive element of cultivating meat, highlights Lucas at GFI. “Last year, GFI Europe teamed up with EIT Food to award €100,000 [US$109,800] each to four companies working on innovative and, crucially, close-to-market ideas to reduce this cost.”

At the moment, GFI’s research grant program is  open for applications from scientists working to develop open-access cell lines, further optimize cell feed, design new scaffolds to give cultivated meat structure and improve the production process by designing affordable cultivators and increasing efficiency.

Richard McGeown, the chef who cooked the world’s first cultivated meat burger in 2013, remarks: “It’s incredible to think in the space of a decade, cultivated meat has moved from the tiny prototype I worked on to become a global industry and a food people can enjoy on two continents, recognized and endorsed by renowned chefs like José Andrés and Dominique Crenn.”

“We’ve only scratched the surface of what we’re able to do with cultivated meat and I’m very excited to see further progress over the next decade,” envisions Mayers. “I believe I’ll be serving it to people in Cornwall – who will eat it not because it’s a novelty but because it’s delicious.”

This new era of commercialized cell-based consumer goods runs in parallel to other food science advancements, such as precision fermentation and molecular bioscience. Last June, molecular farming pioneer Moolec Science made strides in raising the ratio of pork protein it cultivates within its signature soybeans, coined “Piggy Sooy.” The “significantly high” amount of pork protein in the crop can even be seen in the naturally pink color of the beans.

By Benjamin Ferrer

Source: Food Ingredients First