Meet the meat of the future, produced from animal cells rather than slaughter. Cultured meat, or synthetic meat, uses tissue engineering similar to techniques used in regenerative medicine, instead of the traditional method of raising livestock for slaughter.
Now Switzerland's largest meat producer has taken a substantial stake in the Dutch startup Mosa Meat, who produced the world's first synthetic hamburger in 2013, with a view to maintaining its market position, albeit through a far more sustainable technology.
“Meat demand is soaring and in the future won't be met by livestock agriculture alone,” said Lorenz Wyss, CEO of Bell Food Group, in a statement. "We believe this technology can become a true alternative for environment-conscious consumers, and we are delighted to bring our know-how and expertise of the meat business into this strategic partnership with Mosa Meat.”
Mosa Meat's CEO Peter Verstrate (left) and CSO Mark Post (right) in the lab at Maastricht University. Photo: Mosa Meat.
The €7.5 million investment will help Mosa Meat, a spin off company from Maastricht University in the Netherlands, prepare the company to construct its first production plant – with a view to introducing "premium products" to the market by 2021.
"This investment by Bell Food Group is a significant step in helping us bring our products to market. BFG is the leading meat processor in Switzerland and has operations across Europe. We plan to introduce our first product in Europe, so this is a very important strategic partnership," Sarah Lucas, Mosa Meat's head of strategy and communications, told The Local.
"Switzerland is certainly a market we aim to target," she added.
The company's first production plant is scheduled to be operational in 2021, added Lucas.
A rendition of what a cultured meat factory may look like in the future. Photo: Chris Whiteside.
"From one sample from a cow, we can produce 800 million strands of muscle tissue (enough to make 80,000 quarter pounders)," claims Mosa Meat on its website in a post that explains the technology.
"The process of making cultured meat (also known as clean meat) is similar to making livestock meat, except the cells grow outside the animal's body. The cells are placed in a medium containing nutrients and naturally-occurring growth factors, and allowed to proliferate just as they would inside an animal," adds Mosa Meat's post.
With demand for meat growing in tandem with the world's population – and many environmental hazards linked to livestock – synthetic meat could soon come to hold its own place on supermarket shelves worldwide.
“Replacing traditional meat production with cultured meat would have a huge impact on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, it would free up a large amount of resources that are now used for meat production worldwide and will completely disrupt an old-established and currently unsustainable industry,” said Alexander Hoffmann, Principal at M Ventures, which led the round of funding for Mosa Meat.
Cell-based meat has its supporters and detractors.
"In my view, these initiatives are aimed at prolonging the West's excessive consumption of meat, rather than genuine attempts to deal with the problems they claim to solve," Oron Catts, director of SymbioticA, wrote in The Conversation.
Others however have praised the technology for its ability to circumnavigate problems linked with traditional meat production.
"Besides winning the favour of animal rights activists for its humane production of meat, in vitro (ED: another name for synthetic) meat production system also circumvents many of the issues associated with conventional meat production systems, like excessively brutal slaughter of food animals, nutrition-related diseases, foodborne illnesses, resource use, antibiotic-resistant pathogen strains, and massive emissions of methane that contribute to global warming," argues a paper published by Science Direct.