Over 50 cultured meat companies have seen investments surge from $250,000 in 2015 to around $300 million in 2020.
In 2016 there were less than five cultured meat companies, each of which was still performing early proof-of-concept experiments.
However, producing a commercially viable product remains extremely difficult and expensive, according to a new report.
The first prototype product, a cultured burger developed by Professor Mark Post’s research group at Maastricht University in 2013, reportedly cost over US$300,000 to produce.
Costs have fallen significantly – in 2019, Eat JUST claimed its chicken nuggets cost about $50 each to produce. And Future Meat says it is now producing a 110 gramme chicken breast for just under $4, down from $7.50 announced at the start of the year.
The new report from IDTechEx Developments Cultured Meat 2021-2041: Technologies, Markets, Forecasts says the next few years will be pivotal if the industry is going to disrupt the $1 trillion global meat industry.
“Eat JUST uses fetal bovine serum for cultured cells, an expensive ingredient with high variability”
In December 2020, Eat JUST received regulatory approval in Singapore for its GOOD Meat cultured chicken nuggets, a hybrid product created from plant proteins and cultured chicken cells, the first approval of a cultured meat product.
Sold only at the 1880 restaurant in Singapore, is still very much an early-stage product.
The company still uses fetal bovine serum to produce cultured cells, an expensive ingredient with high batch-to-batch variability, meaning that production is unlikely to be scalable in its current form and still partially relies on animal slaughter.
Although Singapore is a relatively small market, it could accelerate the approval process in bigger markets such as the EU, US and China.
Of the major markets across the world, the US and EU arguably have the most well-defined regulatory pathways.
In the EU, the Novel Food Regulation explicitly mentions foods derived from cell and tissue culture and outlines a pathway to approval that could take as little as 18 months.
“The EU has historically been resistant to biotechnology innovations in food”
In the US, the pathway is less clear, although in 2019 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a joint agreement for the regulatory pathway of meat products from cultured cells, other than cultured fish, which is likely to be regulated solely by the FDA.
Nevertheless, there are challenges with securing regulatory approval in both regions.
The EU has historically been resistant to biotechnology innovations in food. Its regulations around genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are among the most stringent in the world.
There are some suggestions that it will be very difficult to create a commercially viable cultured meat product without some form of genetic modification, so it’s a worrying precedent for companies hoping to release products in the EU.
This is less likely to be an issue in the US. But interacting with two separate regulatory bodies, the FDA and USDA, may complicate the approval process.
Each body may have different data requirements and timescales, and the exact roles played by each body are not yet clear. Nevertheless, IDTechEx believes that the US is the more likely of the two regions to see the first approvals of cultured meat.
Both the EU and US can expect resistance from lobbyists and labelling restrictions. In both regions, plant-based substitutes for animal products have faced challenges.
“BlueNalu, Wildtype, and Finless Foods, may be worth watching”
In 2019, the state of Missouri passed a law banning the term “burger” from being used in relation to plant-based meat.
In 2017, the European Court of Justice banned vegan food producers from using terms such as “oat milk” and “soya yogurt” on their packaging, reinforcing this in 2021 with a move to ban producers from even using terms or imagery on packaging which invoke dairy products, to avoid misleading consumers.
There are signs that cultured meat may face similar resistance. In 2018, the US Cattlemen’s Association filed a petition to the USDA requesting that the term “meat” only apply to tissue taken from a slaughtered animal.
One area that could provide a more straightforward path to market, particularly in the US, is cultured fish.
Cultured fish products are likely to be solely regulated by the FDA and there is much less concerted lobbying effort around the fish industry, meaning that regulatory approval is likely to be streamlined.
In October 2020, the FDA issued a request for information on how best to label cultured seafood products, with a deadline for comments set for March 8th, 2021. The USDA is yet to issue a similar request for cultured mammalian or avian meat, although it has signalled an intention to do so.
As a major market with significant global influence, regulatory approval in the US would be a major step forwards for the cultured meat industry and would likely lead to approval in many other regions, as well as a big surge in investment into the industry.
With this in mind, US-based cultured seafood companies, such as BlueNalu, Wildtype, and Finless Foods, may be worth watching in the near future.
In 2019, BlueNalu became the first cultured meat producer to release design schematics for a large-scale production facility.
With $84.75 million in funding, IDTechEx says the company is in a good position to become a leader in the early cultured meat industry.