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Culture club: cell-based meat back in the spotlight

By Ellie Woollven

- Last updated on GMT

Mosa Meat continue to perfect its cell-based meat product
Mosa Meat continue to perfect its cell-based meat product

Related tags: vegan

Cell-based meat has gone under the radar of late, but companies like Mosa Meat are quietly working towards their goals.

With all the recent attention given to plant-based foods and the efforts by meat suppliers to fight their corner, one sector of recent food NPD has been a little under the radar.

Yet it’s a source that could ultimately offer solutions for consumers who wish to continue to eat meat, but are concerned about sustainability and the effects of livestock rearing and meat production on the environment.

Away from the media furore over veganism, allergens and so on, Mosa Meat is one of several firms working assiduously to develop cultivated or cell- based meat, which it hopes to produce in commercially viable quantities in the next few years.

Although the original burger produced by Mosa back in 2013 cost an eyewatering €250,000 to produce, the firm believes this is no different to other new technologies, which start out being relatively expensive and only available at a handful of locations, but drop in price as they are ramped up.

Scale up, cost down

“As we scale up production, we will drive the cost of our hamburgers down and, in time, it will be competitive and even cheaper than livestock hamburgers,”​ Mosa operations coordinator Beckie Calder- Flynn tells Food Manufacture.

“Ultimately, cultured meat should be cheaper than conventional meat, given its production is more efficient. We are confident that, when the product is of high quality and is competitively priced, the benefits will appeal widely to consumers.”

In fact, the company has projected that once production is scaled up, the cost of producing a hamburger will be around €9 compared with the cost of a hamburger in a supermarket being around €1. On its website, it claims that, with further efficiency improvements, it will be able to bring the price down to this level over the next decade.

Having embarked on a first round of funding back in mid-2018, securing €7.5M to commercialise cultured meat, in January this year, Mosa Meat announced strategic partnerships with Lowercarbon Capital, a US-based venture capital fund, and Nutreco, a global leader in animal feed.

At the time, Mosa Meat boss Maarten Bosch extolled the opportunities presented by these new partners: “We’re excited to work with Nutreco, who have brought us their expertise in managing manufacturing supply chains at a truly global scale, as well as Lowercarbon Capital, who draw on deep experience accelerating companies to have a global impact.”

Sustainable and animal friendly

It might seem counter- intuitive that an animal feed firm would involve itself in such a venture, but Nutreco boss Rob Koremans said: “This investment opens the opportunity to produce real meat on a large scale in a highly sustainable and animal-friendly way.

“As the global population continues to grow, the increased demand for protein will place more pressure on our food production system. We will need to produce protein from a variety of sources, including animal agriculture, as well as alternative proteins.”

And while Mosa Meat’s media content states: “We would only need 150 cows to satisfy the world’s meat demand”,​ it admits that this would be scaled up as the population grew. However, given there are over 1bn head of cattle on the planet today, according to the USDA’s World Cattle Inventory 2018, the firm is bound to have a fight-back from the livestock agriculture sector on its hands.

Unfazed, Mosa says it is now moving into the regulatory and production upscaling stage. With the technology in hand, it wants to be ready to move commercially as soon as regulatory approval comes through. In Europe, the company is applying for Novel Foods status, says Calder- Flynn, to demonstrate to the European Food and Safety Authority that its product is safe for human consumption.

She reckons it will take about 1.5 years to obtain this approval and, although the process is rigorous, does not anticipate any problems, “given that the product is the same as regular meat”.

Ethically sound products

Yet there are some hurdles on the horizon. One will be convincing consumers that the product they are creating is ethically sound. Mosa explains on its website; “There is an initial reaction by many people that ‘lab-grown’ meat is unnatural, and that’s completely understandable.

“But the process of the cells growing is actually the same natural process, it just happens outside the animal’s body – and at scale will not happen in a laboratory, but in bioreactors similar to those used to make other foods like cheese.”​ One cell sample can create up to 10,000kg of culture meat, it claims.

Mosa has also moved on from its initial (and potentially controversial) use of foetal bovine serum or FBS – the serum most commonly used in tissue engineering – and claims to have developed a serum-free medium, which it is now optimising. However, it acknowledges that consumer reticence is still a challenge.

“It was important to eliminate FBS from the production process, as it is inherently unsustainable, given that cultured meat will reduce the herd of cows worldwide and FBS is derived from the foetuses of slaughtered cows.

From an environmental perspective, if we are having to produce cows to create the serum for cultured meat, those cows will still be contributing to environmental concerns (such as GHG emissions) that cultured meat is trying to avoid.”

All this said, Mosa continues to be upbeat about the opportunities, particularly given the growing popularity of plant-based food. “We see new high-tech plant-based products as complementary to cultured meat. While it is encouraging to see people replace some of their meat diet with sustainable plant- based solutions, some people will continue to want to eat meat. Therefore, there will be enormous demand for cultured meat products.”

Related topics: NPD

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