Cultured meat, also called cultivated meat or cell-based meat, involves using lab-grown animal cells to create meat products.
Unlike plant-based meat alternatives, cultured meat offerings are designed to be identical to conventional meat, complete with the same fat and muscle tissue, but without animal slaughter and better protecting the environment.
And while the category has seen huge growth over the last five years, increasing from just four companies offering cultivated meat in 2016 to more than 40 companies offering the products today, there are still many challenges, and consumers have lots of questions.
IDTechEx, a UK-based market research firm, has released Cultured Meat 2021-2041: Technologies, Markets, Forecasts, a new report studying the technical and market factors that are shaping the emerging industry. According to the report, the industry has raised approximately one billion dollars in private funding since 2015; however, cell-cultured products are very expensive to produce and no company has yet to produce it on a commercial scale.
Darin Detwiler, PhD, associate teaching professor of food policy at Northeastern University College of Professional Studies in Boston, notes that, while corporate investment in this market has increased drastically, he has yet to see any significant data that indicates a trend in consumer buy-in.
“When discussions around ‘good for the environment,’ ‘healthy alternatives,’ and ‘safe’ are thrown around as value-add for this option, they need to come with evidence and timeline,” he tells Food Quality & Safety. “This is especially important, as the report points out that these options will not be cost effective early on.”
Dr. Detwiler recalls attending meetings where major meat brands were discussing these products as a way to diversify, but at least two years later, he has still not seen this growth become reality.
“My take on this is that consumers need to get over the sea of different terms—cultured meat, cultivated meat, cell-based meat, clean meat, lab-grown, realistic meat products, Beyond Beef, etc.,” he says. “This has already created confusion at the grocery store and suspicion at restaurants. Existing terms used as differentiators—such as open range, cage-free, grass-fed, etc.—may be easy to view as disruptors to the market, but they are still only as good as how they are perceived and understood.”
Food Safety Regulation
As for food safety, USDA versus FDA regulatory jurisdiction has been indicated through an MOU, but to date, there’s no clear policy. “FDA would likely take the lead and, with their new era of smart food safety, technology is a core element of the FDA’s future food safety plans,” Dr. Detwiler says. “However, consumers are receiving some mixed messages regarding tech and safety, such as the JBS cyber hack and at least 30 other documented cases within the food industry over the past year. The lack of trust in science, and the desire to not get caught up in a food safety nightmare are factors to consider.”