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How lab-grown meat could be in UK restaurants in just two years’ time – and the firms bringing it to the table

Biotechnology company CellulaREvolution is developing new processes to speed up and cut the cost of cultured meat production

The Government’s Build Back Better campaign has seen £4bn of taxpayer cash pledged to create 250,000 “green jobs” in the drive to cut carbon emissions by 2050. With the so-called “green industrial revolution” now officially under way, this special iMoney series looks at what qualifies as a green job.

Leo Groenewegen, co-founder of biotechnology company CellulaREvolution in Newcastle upon Tyne, is developing new processes to speed up and cut the cost of cultured meat production – a revolution that could significantly help the environment.

Feeding the world’s growing population with finite resources is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Livestock accounts for 14.5 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate change hit the headlines recently after a major United Nations scientific report warned of “a code red for humanity” and that human activity is causing harm in unprecedented, sometimes irreversible ways.

Scientists warn that we cannot sustain our current demand for meat. The National Food Strategy, a review commissioned by the Government, recently urged that the UK’s meat consumption has to fall by 30 per cent in the next decade to reach targets related to health and climate change.

The industry causes major pressing environmental problems, including deforestation, biodiversity loss and air and water pollution.

Cultivated – or lab-grown – meat could address these challenges by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, using less land and water, preserving habitat and preventing manure pollution and antibiotic overuse.

What is cultured meat?

Cultured meat, sometimes called lab-grown, clean or cultivated meat, is grown in a lab from cells extracted from animals.

“Cultured beef molecularly is exactly the same as the meat tissue that comes from a cow,” said Mr Groenewegen, whose company started in 2019 as a spin-off from Newcastle University.

“There is no need to slaughter the animals. You take a small sample or biopsy from the animal. It’s non-invasive, it’s the same as taking a blood sample. The cells are placed in a bioreactor and there they proliferate and differentiate to form tissue.”

He explains that mimicking more complex cuts of meat – a filet mignon, for instance – requires additional techniques, such as growing muscle and fat cells on “scaffolds” made of a material such as gelatin or collagen.

To grow cultured meat, you take a small sample or biopsy from the animal (Photo: AFP)
To grow cultured meat, you take a small sample or biopsy from the animal (Photo: AFP)

What benefits does lab-grown meat potentially bring?

Recent studies by independent research firm CE Delft show that, compared with conventional beef,  meat cultivated directly from cells may cause up to 92 per cent less global warming and 93 per cent less air pollution, and use up to 95 per cent less land and 78 per cent less water.

According to the Good Food Institute, cultivated meat can be produced more quickly and efficiently, with little waste.

“In the seven weeks it takes a farmer to raise a flock of 20,000 chickens, a meat cultivation facility could theoretically produce a million times as much meat from a starter culture the size of a single egg,” it explains.

But while veganism is a growing trend in the UK, many doubt whether people are motivated to cut back their meat consumption enough to help save the planet.

Cultivated meat has the potential to help us achieve climate goals without dramatic shifts in consumption patterns.

Additionally, cultured meat could be healthier for us, says Mr Groenewegen. “You can modify it as you want, for example its fat content. There are no microplastics in your fish and no antibiotics. There’s no bacteria – E. coli or salmonella which can occur in slaughtered animals. It also reduces the risk of zoonotic disease like Covid because there’s less interaction between factory farms and humans.”

What are the challenges?

The cost of producing lab-grown meat has been the main hurdle. The first dish-grown beef burger in 2013 cost $330,000, or around £240,000, and took a Netherlands company over two years to produce. The cost of an individual lab burger is expected to fall to around £7.50 this year.

“The price has really gone down, really rapidly,” said Mr Groenewegen. “It’s still too expensive for the everyday consumer at the moment and not quite as competitive as a standard burger. That’s what we are working on with our technology.”

And of course, if you want to sell a product, there’s one group you need to convince: consumers. “I think younger people are going to lead the way in embracing cultured meat.”

How can these challenges be overcome?

“We are developing enabling technologies, which will allow other companies to scale up their production,” said Mr Groenewegen. “Specifically, we are developing multiple types of bioreactors.”

This equipment will allow companies to change from producing the cultured meat in time-consuming batch methods and switch to continuous production. This will increase their yield and bring down manufacturing costs.

“For example, a small steak will contain 10 billion cells and using traditional batch processes this could take a single bioreactor one month to produce. Our technology could shorten that to a few days.”

Mr Groenewegen predicts that far from being a thing of science fiction, lab-grown meat is definitely on the near horizon. He expects CellulaREvolution, which has 10 employees, to at least triple its workforce in the next few years.

“I think that we are two to three years away from seeing cultured meat in high-end restaurants,” he said. “For it to go mainstream and be available on supermarket shelves, I think is four to five years away.”

Mr Groenewegen said that to bring down the cost, we will likely see products that contain a blend of cultured meat and plant-based ingredients.

Source: iNews UK

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