At that time, the price of a thin slice of meat was already $50. However, according to the experts working on this project, the organoleptic properties of this meat—roughly speaking, its taste—was still far from ideal.
In general, research and development in the field is in full swing in the leading countries of the world. Experiments are conducted in two main directions: meat made from plant-based components (mainly proteins) and real meat substitutes, i.e., cultured meat, obtained by growing animal cells.
Vegans will eat meat too
The meat produced by the first method is completely in line with vegan food standards, and this is good news for the followers of this practice. Leading startups specializing in this area are Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
Extrusion is the main method used in the process of creating artificial meat, with mainly soybeans and legumes as raw material. Beetroot or other red plant juices are used as a color additive, and vegetable oils are used as fats. Extrusion is the process of compressing and crushing plant biomass and heating it to 100°C—no chemical reaction is needed.
The past year was very successful for artificial meat manufacturers. For example, Beyond Meat’s stock surged to all-time high.
UBS, a well-known Swiss financial holding, estimates that by 2030, the plant protein market in the United States alone will grow from $4.6 billion to $85 billion. This field was considered niche in the past—meaning that these products were mainly intended for vegans and other eco activists, but surveys and market demand show that plant-based meat has caused the interest of a large number of consumers.
The coronavirus epidemic also played into the hands of artificial meat manufacturers: artificial meat is produced in a more sterile environment. In these difficult days when people give up meat and meat products en masse, Beyond Meat has significantly strengthened its position on the market.
Real live, bloody meat
No matter how good the meat produced by said method is, it will probably not replace the real meat completely. It is not considered meat, either in taste or in essence. But there is another method that allows getting a completely real meat substitute by growing live animal cells.
This process involves getting cells from a living animal, isolating stem cells, and producing cuts of meat by converting these stem cells into muscle and fat cells in special bioreactors and multiplying them.
Both living and slaughtered animals are used as raw material. But there are also genetically modified cells called “immortal cells” that divide non-stop. The use of such cells generally precludes the loss of a living animal in the process.
Bioengineers at the University of Bath in the UK use plant fibers as carcass to improve the technique of collecting animal cells multiplied in the reactor. Scientists of the university believe that in the future, cultured meat will compete with natural meat in the market.
But all experts agree that cultured meat can do that only if it does not fall behind natural meat in terms of price, quality, naturalness and compliance with sanitary standards.
Future Meat Technologies, a startup founded in 2018, deserves special mention here. Future Meat bioengineers have developed a special solution in which the meat is cultured 10 times faster than in the bioreactors of other manufacturers. The $14 million development investment the company has received allows it to launch its first production line. The founders of the startup have already promised that the entire food industry will change completely in 2022.
Bioreactor tanks filled with “magic solution” are already being put into mass use, stepping up and lowering the cost of the production of artificial meat.
The process is as follows:
Undifferentiated (i.e., stem cells) fibroblastoma cells and Chinese hamster ovary cells, widely used in the production of artificial therapeutic proteins, are used in Future Meat reactors to produce the two main components of meat—muscle and fatty tissue. With the help of small molecules, these stem cells are sent in the right direction, that is, to convert into muscle cells. But the main secret of Future Meat is the “magic solution” that they developed, allowing them to increase production by 80%. That is, you can get not 100, but 800 grams of finished product from a liter of raw material. The thing is, living organisms secrete special toxins that prevent the growth of cells, and the special solution created by Future Meat accelerates the process by eliminating these toxins.
Another important point is that there is no need to invest $100,000 to build a plant to manufacture Future Meat reactors. The company sells its bioreactors and raw materials to interested manufacturers at reasonable prices. Future Meat actually prefers working with private manufacturers, rather than with supermarkets.
The cost of half a kilo of meat biomass produced by Future Meat in the first stage is already $10. If we take into account the addition of plant-based components, the price drops to $4—lower than the current price of meat on the world market.
The company is also confident that taste-wise, the meat it offers will be superior to all competitors.
Interestingly, one of the original sponsors of Future Meat is Tyson Foods, the largest US producer of natural meat.
Why do people want to eat artificial meat?
One of the main reasons is the damage caused to the environment by the production of natural meat. According to a study by Beyond Meat in collaboration with the University of Michigan, a burger made from plant-based ingredients generates 90% less greenhouse gases, requiring 55% of the energy, 1% of water and 7% of soil needed to produce half a kilo of normal meat.
According to the FAIRR network, which unites investors in the animal agriculture sector, 70 billion animals are sent for slaughter every year. Agriculture accounts for 40% of land consumption and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture is also to blame for more than 70% of the use of fresh water resources.
Production of 1 kg of beef causes the release of 27 kg of carbon dioxide per year. This figure is 12 kg for pork and 7 kg for chicken.
The main obstacle currently hindering the mass production of artificial meat is that the technology is still relatively expensive. An artificial meat burger today is on average 6 times more expensive than its natural analogue. However, with the expansion of production, as well as increasing market demand, the production costs and market price of artificial analogues of natural meat will go down.
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