Lab-grown meat moves closer to American dinner plates

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Cultured meat company executives are optimistic that meat grown in huge steel vats could be on the menu within months after one company won permission from a major regulator. In a show of confidence, some of them have signed up high-end chefs such as Argentine Francis Mallmann and Spaniard José Andrés to eventually feature meats in their high-end food.

But to reach its ultimate destination – supermarket shelves – cultured meat faces major obstacles, five executives told Reuters. The companies want to attract more funds to increase production, allowing them to offer their beef steaks and chicken breasts at a more affordable price. Along the way, they have to overcome a reluctance among some consumers to even try lab-grown meat.

Cultured meat is derived from a small sample of cells collected from livestock, which is then fed nutrients, grown in huge steel containers called bioreactors, and processed into something that looks and tastes like a real cut of meat. meat

Only one country, Singapore, has so far approved the product for retail sale. But the United States is ready to follow. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in November that a cultured meat product – chicken breast grown by California-based UPSIDE Foods – was safe for human consumption.

UPSIDE now hopes to bring its product to restaurants as soon as 2023 and to grocery stores by 2028, its executives told Reuters.

UPSIDE has yet to be inspected by the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and get agency approval on its labels. A USDA FSIS spokesman declined to comment on its inspection timeline.

`HOUSE WITHOUT A PIECE`

At UPSIDE’s facility in Emeryville, California, workers in lab coats were seen poring over touch screens and monitoring giant vats of water mixed with nutrients during a recent Reuters visit. The meat is harvested and processed in a room that chief executive officer Uma Valeti calls a “house without slaughter,” where it is inspected and tested.

Reuters reporters were served a sample of UPSIDE’s chicken during the visit. It tasted like conventional chicken when cooked, although it was slightly thinner and had a more uniform brown color when raw.

UPSIDE worked with the FDA for four years before receiving the agency’s green light in November, Valeti told Reuters.

“It’s an important moment for the industry,” he said.

California-based cultured meat company GOOD Meat already has an application pending with the FDA, which has not been previously reported. Two other companies, Holland-based Mosa Meat and Israel-based Believer Meats, said they are in discussions with the agency, company executives told Reuters.

The FDA declined to provide details of pending applications for cultured meat but confirmed it is talking to several companies.

Regulatory approval is only the first hurdle to making cultured meat accessible to a wide range of consumers, executives at UPSIDE, Mosa Meat, Believer Meats, and GOOD Meat told Reuters.

The biggest challenge facing the companies is growing the nascent supply chain for the mix of nutrients to feed the cells and for the massive bioreactors needed to produce large quantities of cultured meat, said the executives.

For now, production is limited. UPSIDE’s facility has the capacity to turn out 400,000 pounds of cultured meat annually — a tiny fraction of the 106 billion pounds of conventional meat and poultry produced in the United States in 2021, according to the Institute of North American Meat, a meat industry lobby group.

If companies can’t get the funding needed to ramp up production, their product may never reach a price point where it can compete with conventional meat, said GOOD Meat co-founder Josh Tetrick.

“Sales is different from selling a lot,” Tetrick said. “As long as we as a company and other companies build infrastructure on a large scale, it will be on a very small scale.”

SCALAR WOES

The cultured meat sector has so far garnered almost $2 billion in investments globally, according to data collected by the Good Food Institute (GFI), a research group focused on alternatives to conventional meat.

But it will take hundreds of millions of dollars for GOOD Meat, for example, to build bioreactors of the size needed to make its meat at scale, Tetrick said.

Investment in the industry has so far been led by venture capital firms and major food companies such as JBS SA, Tyson Foods Inc, and Archer-Daniels-Midland Co.

JBS spokeswoman Nikki Richardson said the company’s investments in cultured meat “are consistent with our efforts to build a diversified global food portfolio of traditional protein product offerings, based on plants and alternatives.”

Tyson did not respond to a request for comment. ADM declined to comment.

Much of that money has been directed to the United States, the No. 1 target for cultured meat makers because of its size and wealth, said Jordan Bar Am, a McKinsey & Company partner who focuses on on alternative proteins.

Some companies are ramping up US production even before their products have been approved by regulators.

Believer Meats plans to build a facility in North Carolina, to be commissioned in early 2024, that could produce 22 million pounds of meat a year, said chief executive Nicole Johnson-Hoffman. And GOOD Meat has plans to build its production in California and Singapore up to 30 million pounds a year.

The European Union together with Israel and other countries are also working on regulatory frameworks for cultured meat but have not yet approved a product for human consumption.

THE `ICK` FACTOR

Cultured meat companies plan to present to consumers that their product is greener and more ethical than conventional livestock, while trying to overcome an aversion to their product among some buyers.

On the one hand, their product does not involve the slaughter of animals, which the companies hope will make the product attractive to people who avoid meat for moral reasons. Animals are not harmed in the process of collecting the cells, company executives told Reuters.

Another draw is that growing meat in a steel vessel instead of a field can reduce the environmental impact of livestock, which is responsible for 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions through feed production, deforestation, manure management, and enteric fermentation – animal burps – according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Plant-based meat companies also appealed to consumers with moral and environmental claims, although the sector only captured 1.4% of the meat market, according to a GFI report.

But cultured meat companies have the advantage of being able to claim that their product is real meat, Tetrick said.

“Probably the single biggest thing we’ve learned is that people really like meat. They probably won’t eat much less of it,” he said.

Still, many people are pregnant from cultured meat, said Janet Tomiyama, a health psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies human diets.

In a 2022 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, she found that 35% of meat eaters and 55% of vegetarians would be too disgusted to try cultured meat.

Some people may perceive meat as “unnatural” and have a negative attitude about it before even trying it, she said.

To attract hesitant buyers, companies need to be as clear as possible about how their product is made and that it is safe to eat, said Tetrick, whose company has sold its product to restaurants in Singapore.

“You have to be transparent about it, but in a way that’s still appetizing,” he said.

UPSIDE Foods and GOOD Meat plan to ignite American palates by releasing their products in approved high-end restaurants for the first time, they told Reuters, betting that consumers there will tolerate a higher price and make a better first impression. goodness of their flesh.

UPSIDE hopes to bring its products into grocery stores in the next three to five years, said CEO Valeti.

Major US supermarket chains did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Restaurateur Andrés, known for his work on global food security, told Reuters he wants to sell cultured meat because of its environmental benefits.

“We can see in what is happening around us, in every country around the world, that our planet is in crisis,” he said.

Fellow chef Mallmann, known for his preparations of meat and other food over open flames, told Reuters he is also influenced by environmental considerations and sees the chefs’ role as making the product more gastronomically appealing. and less scientific.

“We want to add romance to it,” he said.

(Reporting by Leah Douglas, editing by Richard Valdmanis and Ross Colvin)

By Leah Douglas

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