“Clean meat” — products produced from culturing animal cells rather than raising and slaughtering animals — is facing its first major regulatory battle. The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association petitioning the USDA against allowing lab-grown meat from being labelled “meat.” Interestingly, it’s difficult to classify it as a David-versus-Goliath, since players big and small can be found on both sides. Most of the innovation in the space can be attributed to startups, but the most promising ventures are backed by large food companies such as Cargill and Tyson Foods. On the other hand, American farms range from small family-owned ranches to large commercial agriculture operations.
Clean meat companies argue that their products can be managed under existing regulatory frameworks. As Memphis Meats CEO and co-founder Uma Valeti, MD told FoodNavigator-USA, their products are “compositionally and nutritionally substantially equivalent to existing meat products on the market.” He says that cultured meat derived from animal cells is already defined in federal statutes, meets the definitions of meat products already found in regulations and standards, and on a more practical level, it “looks like meat, cooks like meat and tastes like meat.” Meat from cloned animals, for example, does not require special labeling under FDA rules.
“The only difference between clean/cultured meat products and conventional products is the process by which the animal parts are grown and harvested,” Valeti added. “There is no discussion, let alone requirement, in any applicable statute or regulation that mandates ‘the traditional manner’ of meat or poultry production. Indeed, production methods have varied considerably over time.”
On the business side, things are going well for Memphis Meats. The company aims to reach price parity with conventional products by 2021 or sooner, and reports “a lot of interest” from chefs and foodservice firms — Cargill and Tyson Foods are among its investors. It’s easy to see why there might be so much interest. Even with animal welfare issues aside, clean meat is far more efficient to produce.
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“We can produce up to 10,000 cows’ worth of meat with a single biopsy [of animal cells] and that’s a very conservative estimate,” said Eric Schulze, Memphis Meats VP of product and regulation.
Since conventional animal agriculture weighs heavily on the planet, cellular agriculture also boasts environmental benefits. “It’s a 10X reduction in greenhouse gases and land use, and there are also foodborne pathogen considerations and spoilage considerations that are ameliorated,” Schulze added.
Meanwhile, Israeli startups are charging ahead. Aleph Farms (formerly Meat the Future) believes it has a unique “3D technology” method of creating its products, while Future Meat Technologies and SuperMeat recently earned investment funding.
Like Memphis Meats and other clean meat producers, Aleph Farms starts with cells taken from an animal biopsy and grows them in a controlled laboratory setting. The difference is its proprietary process for growing its products, developed at the Israeli Institute of Technology Technion, which the company claims will provide a meat that is closer to free range meat in taste and texture.
“Our 3D technology gives us the ability to grow all the cells that make up traditional meat together — the muscle fibres, the fat, the blood vessels and the connective tissue, such as collagen, that binds it. This is our main competitive advantage: our meat grows together like real meat,” explained Didier Toubia, founder and CEO of Aleph Farms.
“Other companies grow single cells in suspension or layers in a petri dish and that means the tissues of other clean meat companies are not really integrated. Their meat is like a formulated, processed product with separate ingredients.”
Different methods haven’t stopped companies from raising significant funding.
SuperMeat raised US$3 million in seed funding in January, and has since [boosted that figure to close to $4 million](https://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Article/2018/05/02/Clean-meat-start-up-SuperMeat-raises-US-4m-with-backing-from-traditional-industry-players target=) and has been in contact with more investors from Asia and the US. The seed round was led by New Crop Capital and Stray Dog Capital, which have previously invested in other alternative protein companies such as Beyond Meat. SuperMeat has been developing a chicken meat as its first product, and the startup attracted investment from one of Europe’s largest poultry producers, PHW Group, as part of the funding round.
“Not only are traditional meat companies not against SuperMeat’s clean meat, they’re actually supporting it and putting their money on it,” commented SuperMeat co-founder and head of communications Shir Friedman.
In another demonstration of support, Israeli meat firm Soglowek recently announced it would give 20% of the profits of its upcoming plant-based range of food products to SuperMeat’s clean meat research and development.
Tyson Foods is certainly on board with innovations in the meat industry. Roughly six months ago the food giant upped its stake in plant-based protein company Beyond Meat, in January it invested in Memphis Meats, and now has announced the conclusion of a seed round for Future Meat Technologies.
“We continue to invest significantly in our traditional meat business but also believe in exploring additional opportunities for growth that give consumers more choices,” said Justin Whitmore, Executive Vice President of Corporate Strategy and Chief Sustainability Officer at Tyson Foods.
Tyson Ventures, the food company’s venture capital arm, co-led the $2.2 million investment round, joined by Israeli food conglomerate Neto Group, China’s first food tech venture capital fund BitsXBites, the investment fund founded by The Hebrew University’s technology transfer company, Chicago-based S2G Ventures and New York-based HB Ventures.
“It is difficult to imagine cultured meat becoming a reality with a current production price of about $10,000 per kilogram,” said Yaakov Nahmias, Future Meat Technology’s founder and Chief Scientist. “We redesigned the manufacturing process until we brought it down to $800 per kilogram today, with a clear roadmap to $5-10 per kg by 2020.”
“Global demand for protein and meat is growing at a rapid pace, with an estimated worldwide market of more than a trillion dollars, including explosive growth in China. We believe that making a healthy, non-GMO product that can meet this demand is an essential part of our mission,” added Rom Kshuk, the startup’s CEO.
“We want to feed the world while protecting the environment.”