Lab meat start-ups hope to make progress in 2022

Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of cultured meat startup Eat Just, has a vision: He imagines a day when lab-grown meat will be available everywhere, from Michelin-starred restaurants to street vendors and food chains. fast.

But more investment – ​​and regulatory approvals – will be needed to get there. Cultivated or cultured meats are real animal products made in laboratories and commercial production facilities. Currently, the process is expensive, but researchers and entrepreneurs say that over time, manufacturing will become more efficient and less expensive. If consumers switch to cultured meat, it could help reduce greenhouse gases from agriculture and mitigate climate change.

“It’s not inevitable,” Tetrick said in an interview. “It could take 300 years or it could take 30 years. It’s up to companies like ours to do the real work of building engineering capability…and communicating directly to consumers about what it’s all about.” and what it is not, and how it can benefit their lives.”

Investors have poured some $2 billion into the space over the past two years, according to data from Crunchbase. The coming year will bring more investment. Eat Just and others are working to gain regulatory approval in the United States from the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture.

Nick Cooney, managing partner of LeverVC, which invests in the sector, said he expects approval as early as this year.

“There are several companies in this space that are building large pilot facilities to produce cultured meat products, but to produce at large enough volumes, it’s going to involve a lot of capex, a lot of steel, and it’s just going to take time” , did he declare.

Eat Just has made big inroads over the past two years. In Singapore, it received its first regulatory approval in December 2020 for its Good Meat cultured chicken and has since been licensed to sell new types of cultured chicken there, including chicken breasts, fillets and pulled chicken products. .

“It’s real meat,” Tetrick said. “And instead of needing billions of animals and all the land and water, and all the rainforests that you usually have to chop down to get there, we’re starting with a cell. You can get the cell from a biopsy of an animal, a piece of fresh meat, or a cell bank. Now we don’t need the animal anymore. Then we identify the nutrients needed to feed that cell and… we make it in a stainless steel container called a bioreactor.

Eat Just also sells plant-based egg products made from mung beans in stores such as Whole Foods and Publix in the United States, and employs more than 200 people.

To date, he says, more than 700 people in Singapore have been served with his cultured meat products – a number that Tetrick hopes to increase rapidly as it receives approvals in other countries.

Once approved, Eat Just said it had already laid the groundwork to get started. The company’s Good Meat division last year announced a $267 million capital raise to build vessels and systems that will increase production in the United States and Singapore, where it currently manufactures, with the aim of make this equipment operational within the next two years. It also announced in August that it would build a facility in Qatar, in partnership with Doha Venture Capital and Qatar Free Zones Authority, but much more capital will be needed to build bioreactors large enough to scale up.

According to the nonprofit research advocacy group The Good Food Institute, more than 100 start-ups are working on cultured meat products, and major companies are also ramping up their own operations.

JBS, the global protein giant, acquired BioTech Foods in late 2021, investing $100 million to enter the cultured meat market and build a research and development center in Brazil. The Spanish biotech company is another cultured foods leader, focusing on the development of biotechnology for the production of cultured meats.

These developments come as consumers are increasingly concerned about climate change and eager to change their eating habits to combat it. Plant-based meat products have become more ubiquitous, appearing on menus like those at KFC or popping up in the grocery aisle at Target. Cultured meat could offer Americans another alternative and could co-exist with products made by companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.

“The world will not achieve net zero emissions without addressing food and land,” said Caroline Bushnell, vice president of corporate engagement at the Good Food Institute.

“The role of our food system on climate change is generally underestimated, but factory farming is a major contributor,” she said. “Alternative proteins, including cultured meat, can be a key aspect of how we reduce emissions from our food system. It will not be possible to meet our obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement at unless industrial meat production declines.”

Chef Jose Andres, restaurateur and founder of the nonprofit humanitarian group World Central Kitchen, wants to be part of that solution. Last month, he joined the board of directors of Eat Just’s Good Meat division and pledged to sell his cultured chicken at one of its US restaurants pending regulatory review.

Such promises can help bring Tetrick closer to his vision. But the costs must also come down.

“A local restaurant or big fast food chain isn’t going to take it if it’s way more expensive than conventional meat. They’re going to take it when it’s close – or better yet, when it’s under price. And that’s what we have to fight for,” said Andres.

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