With the ever-expanding global population and humanity’s appetite for meat products not showing any signs of wavering, the food industry is looking to ever more technologically advanced solutions to feed the world.
Cultured meat, or lab-based meat, is meat grown from animal cells in tissue culture. Cultured meat differs from more common plant-based meat, derived from products such as soy or jackfruit, which only contain plant products and are vegan or vegetarian.
The first cultured meat products, chicken bites produced by US company Eat Just, are already on sale in Singapore. Does this represent the beginning of a new era for the way we produce and consume meat?
In this article, we examine 5 challenges faced by producers of cultured meat and explore how a strong IP position can help meet these challenges.
1. Public Acceptance
Consumers are used to exactly how the products they buy in the supermarket week in week out should look, smell, and most importantly taste. Other alternative protein sources, such as insects, have been slow to acceptance as they fail to replicate current meat products. For cultured meat to take off, companies will need to develop products that match these characteristics. Fortunately, cultivated meat has the potential to not only match, but surpass existing products. Producers could instead of relying on easy-to-farm animals, produce products using only cell lines from animals with the best characteristics. As cultured meat is grown from animal cells, and animal products are often used in its production, cultured meat is usually not considered vegan or vegetarian. This could represent a further challenge as more, especially young people, adopt plant-based diets.
Cultured meat is unlikely to achieve widespread adoption until it achieves cost parity with conventional meat. However, production costs for cultured meat are still much higher than conventionally farmed meat, despite good progress being made in the past decade. This is mainly due to the low scale of current production methods and the high cost of the culture feedstocks (such as glucose and other media ingredients). We expect culture media and conditions to be a key area in which companies in this space generate IP. This will likely improve as economies of scale are reached.
3. Scale-up of production
The scale up required to achieve lower production costs will also bring challenges. Companies will need to develop scalable, streamlined manufacturing facilities and ensure robust supply chains. It will also require large capital investment in manufacturing capability to achieve production levels that will allow cultured meat to penetrate the consumer market in a meaningful way. A strong IP position will be key for attracting this investment. Companies such as Aleph Farms have recognised the value of such an IP strategy and filed applications to cover key manufacturing methods.
Mosa Meat’s Head of Strategy, Sarah Lucas confirms that one of the main focus points of the company is exactly this:
Our focus is on scaling up our technology and bringing down cost as fast as possible, so that we can start making an impact for the environment and animals”.
Read more about Mosa Meat and their journey in reshaping the global food system here:
4. Environmental Impact
Currently, the production of cultured meat is energy intensive, mainly due to the small scale of current production facilities. However, as scale up is achieved it is likely cultured meat will have a lesser impact on the environment than traditionally-farmed meat. Cultured meat has the potential to consume less energy, water and feedstock than traditional farming.
Singapore is the only country to have approved a cultured meat product. If cultured meat is to be successful policy makers will need to adopt a forward-thinking position on the matter. For example, in the US, which is one of the world’s largest consumer markets, cultured meat products are jointly regulated by the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. Matters could be further complicated if genetic modification of the animal cells used in production is carried out. However, as we recently reported here a recent report from the EU and WHO has signalled an appetite for reducing regulatory burden on producers of genetically modified food products.
Whilst significant hurdles remain for cultured meat to become a staple in our supermarket trolleys, industry experts predict that by as soon as 2030, cultured meat could have reached price parity with traditionally-farmed meat. Once this happens, as cultured meat has the potential to alleviate the environmental and animal welfare concerns surrounding traditionally-farmed meat, perhaps we will all be grilling burgers grown in a lab!
For more information on all things Food & Drink; or advice on patenting food technologies in Europe, please contact Sam Bailey or your usual Kilburn & Strode advisor.