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Cultivated Meat: The Future or a Foodtech Fantasy?

by Victor Adeyemi

In recent years, the food tech sector has seen a surge of innovation, with companies like Meatable, Aleph Farms leading the charge. At the same time, the global cultivated meat market is projected to grow from $1.2 billion in 2020 to $10.9 billion by 2025.

However, with these groundbreaking advancements, the intrigue around the future of cultivated meat continues to grow. Is this sustainable or just a fuzz? Let’s find out!  

What is the Technology of Cultivated Meat? 

Cultivated meat, also known as lab-grown or in vitro meat, is a novel way of producing meat without the need to raise and slaughter animals. This technology comes in two forms: plant-based and cultured animal cells grown in a lab. 

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The process of creating cultivated meat starts by extracting a small number of cells called myosatellite cells. The process include the following: 

Stage 1: Cell Extraction

  • Cells are taken from the muscle of an animal, like a cow, through a small biopsy.
  • These cells, known as myosatellite cells, are muscle stem cells responsible for tissue regeneration.

Stage 2: Cell Nourishment

  • Cells are placed in a nutrient-rich solution containing amino acids, glucose, vitamins, and growth factors.
  • This solution mimics the natural environment that promotes cell growth and multiplication.

Stage 3: Cell Proliferation

  • Cells multiply and grow in a controlled environment, similar to how they would inside an animal’s body.
  • The cells proliferate until trillions are obtained from a small sample. This growth takes place in a bioreactor. 

Stage 4: Cell Differentiation

  • Changes in the nutrient solution and environmental conditions prompt the immature cells to differentiate into various types of tissues found in meat, such as skeletal muscle, fat, and connective tissues.

Stage 5: Harvesting and Processing

  • The differentiated cells are harvested, prepared, and packaged into final products.
  • This entire process typically takes between 2 to 8 weeks, depending on the type of meat being cultivated.

Why Switch to Cultivated Meat? 

The shift towards cultivated meat is driven by the recognition that traditional animal agriculture may not meet the increasing global demand for meat sustainably. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) highlights that by 2050, the world’s meat demand is projected to surge by 70%, surpassing the capacity of our planet’s resources. 

Moreover, the approach to meat production in controlled environments offers a promising solution to challenges like sustainability and food security.

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Trevor Amen, a former animal protein economist, views the shift towards alternative proteins like plant-based, insect-derived, and cultured meats as part of the ongoing evolution in food manufacturing technology. 

In addition, He anticipates these alternative protein sources to become prominent food trends in the near future. However, this transition is not expected to significantly impact the demand for livestock and poultry protein in the U.S. and the world.  

When Will Cultivated Meat Make It to Market?  

Cultivated meat is making significant strides towards commercialisation. In the United States, companies like UPSIDE Foods and Eat Just have received USDA approval to produce and sell chicken grown from animal cells in bioreactors.

Notably, In December 2020, the Singapore Food Agency approved the world’s first cultivated chicken product for sale by Meatable. This product is now available in various restaurants, public food stalls, and butcheries.

In recent developments, UPSIDE Foods concluded the initial pre-market consultation with the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its cultivated chicken product in November 2022. 

Additionally, a significant milestone was achieved in January 2024 with Aleph Farms’ cultivated beef receiving regulatory approval in Israel.

Is Cultivated Meat the Future? 

The future of cultivated meat is not just a distant dream; it’s a tangible reality shaping the food industry. However, it isn’t here to replace traditional meat production but to complement it. 

While there will undoubtedly be hurdles to overcome, the potential for cultivated meat to thrive is evident. The future of food is evolving, and cultivated meat represents a crucial step towards a more sustainable food industry. 

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