Spain has accelerated Europe’s race for lab-grown meat with a government grant amounting to €5.2 million to research its potential health benefits.
Called CULTUREDMEAT, the project is led by BioTech Foods, the Basque biotechnology start-up behind Ethicameat, and Ibérico meat giant Argal.
The project will determine whether, with the addition of healthy fats and other ingredients, cultured meat can reduce cholesterol and the likelihood of colon cancer – problems usually associated with eating red and processed meat.
Colon cancer is Spain’s most frequently diagnosed cancer, with 25,000 cases reported every year.
According to Inigo Charola, CEO of BioTech Foods, cultivated meat should be viewed as “one of the greatest innovations of the century, integrating food safety, animal welfare and sustainability.”
It can radically reduce the number of animals in meat production. BioTech Foods is able to grow the equivalent of 50 pigs from a single muscle sample. Its product is free of fats, antibiotics, and avoids the need to kill animals.
Cultured meat “avoids the risk of zoonotic diseases” such as Covid-19
Nineteen billion animals are reared for slaughter each year – a process responsible for 14.5 per cent of greenhouse gases, 30 per cent of land use, and 10 per cent of fresh water consumption. The roll-out of cultured meat as an alternative has enormous potential benefits for the environment.
Nonetheless, several hurdles remain. Inigo Charola says that, in addition to achieving the scale necessary for commercialisation, the main challenge is to explain the benefits to the consumer. Namely that this, “meat respects animal welfare, reduces environmental impact and improves food safety, avoiding the risk of zoonotic diseases.”
This is a view shared by Arzoo Ahmed, research officer at the Nuffield Council of Bioethics and author of their alternative meat policy briefing. She says, cultured meat uses substantially less water and land, and produces less waste than conventional meat production. But success will largely depend on affordability and consumer acceptance.
BioTech Foods will grow and supply all cultured meat used in the project for Ibérico meat giant Argal, and six other entities, Martínez Somalo, DMC Research, BDI Biotech, Neoalgae, BTSA and Agrowingdata. Ten research organisations that specialise in nutrition technologies, are also involved, including the Barcelona Science Park, and the University of Granada.
The project received funding through the Centre for Industrial Technological Development (CDTI). It was awarded €3.7 million in initial funding, with a total budget of €5.2 million. The results are expected by the end of 2023.
BioTech made news in October last year, leading the consortium Meat4All, which was awarded a €2.7 million grant from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 R&D programme.
Meat4All looks to retain the nutritional value of cultured meat as production is scaled up. It will include taste trials to check the viability of cultured meat in the European market.
With Singapore having provided regulatory approval to cultured meat in December last year, these projects bring it one step closer to European dinner plates.