Cultivated Meat & Seafood – What to expect
In this series, we’ve explored cultivated meat and seafood. In this post, we’ll look at the products that may be the first type on the market and answer some lingering questions.
What is cultivated meat and seafood?
Cultivated meat and seafood is meat and seafood grown outside of the animal from specific animal cells in a bioreactor.
You can learn more about the cultivation process from our previous blog.
What products can we expect to see on the market initially?
In Singapore, one restaurant offered cultivated chicken, in essentially a nugget form, three ways. This represents the first types of cultivated meat foods we can expect to see on the market in the near future.
Meat and seafood without complex structure, like ground meat, nuggets, or flaked seafood, will most likely be the first types of cultivated products on the market as they will be easiest to cultivate given their structure.
We can also anticipate meat and hybrid veggie products. For example, a burger that combines cultivated meat and a veggie blend similar to Impossible Burger™ technology to create a hybrid burger that could have superior nutritional profiles to both a traditional burger and a veggie burger.
We can anticipate steak, fillets, and other familiar cuts of meat and seafood in the future. However, it will take time to perfect cultivated meat and seafood with these more complex structures.
Will pet foods contain cultivated meat?
In the U.S., there’s a regulatory framework in place to allow cultivated meat and seafood in pet foods and other animal feeds.
In fact, a company is launching cat treats made with cultivated mouse meat.
In the future, we can expect to see other pet foods and animal feeds use cultivated meat and seafood in their products.
Will it be genetically modified organisms (GMO) or non-GMO?
We can expect companies to use both genetically modified and unmodified cells to cultivate meat and seafood.
The GMO process can help optimize cells for growing in a bioreactor.
Additionally, scientists are developing technology in other GMO areas to delete molecules that can trigger allergic reactions in people with specific food allergies. Theoretically, in the future, scientists could incorporate that technology in cultivated meat and seafood technology to allow people with meat and seafood allergies to consume the foods safely.
Is it environmentally intensive? Can it be sustainable?
Both traditional and cultivated meat and seafood production are environmentally intensive at this point, each in different ways.
Traditional agriculture impacts our climate through greenhouse gas emissions (primarily from animal growth/digestion), our forests through deforestation for land use (both to grow food to feed animals and for animals to roam), biodiversity through deforestation and habitat loss, nutrient cycles through fertilizer use and manure overproduction, and available clean water through animal needs (1).
Cellular agriculture may impact the environment through greenhouse gases emitted from factories run on our current fossil fuel-intensive energy grid. However, if factories are run on sustainable energy grids, it would dramatically decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
Cellular agriculture still requires nutrients (e.g., growth media). The growth media needs to contain sugar from carbohydrates. Scientists can products these sugars from familiar foods like corn, wheat, soybeans, or even algae.
The amount of growth media needed to feed the cells will determine how much land producers use to grow the necessary crops to supply the growth media. It could be the same, or it could be significantly less than what we currently use in traditional agriculture. We’ll know more as the technology scales for production.
Cellular agriculture will most likely use the same amount of water as traditional agriculture. However, it will most likely have a significantly smaller nutrient pollution profile than traditional agricultural practices.
As technology advances, there will be ways to make cellular agriculture more sustainable.
Will it contain antibiotics?
Unlike traditional meat and seafood production that often requires antibiotics to keep animals safe and healthy, cultivated meat and seafood will neither need nor use antibiotics (1).
Is it produced in a laboratory?
Manufacturers will produce cultivated meat and seafood in a food-safe facility that’s more akin to a beer brewery than a laboratory.
What will the taste, texture, and smell be like?
Scientists are working to ensure the taste, texture, and smell provide the same sensory experience as traditional meat and seafood.
How much does it cost to develop this? Will the cultivated meat and seafood be expensive?
To be blunt, it costs a lot of money to develop this technology. Using information publicly available from 2016-2020, investors have pumped USD 505 million into cultivated meat and seafood companies (1).
That number doesn’t include other funding, such as publicly funded university and medical research, that underpins some of the initial science used to develop these technologies.
Once companies scale to mass production, we can expect cultivated meat and seafood to compete with traditional meat and seafood prices.
For some perspective, the restaurant in Singapore, 1880, charged approximately USD 23 for a trio of chicken entrees. However, it does not reflect the actual cost of the food (1).
The good news.
The future of cultivated meat and seafood is bright and filled with opportunities to expand our food system. We can expect to see more exciting developments and maybe try some cultivated meat and seafood soon