The Dutch startup Mosa Meat produced the first ever lab-grown beef burger in 2013. Dr. Mark Post is the co-founder and chief scientific officer of the company, is speaking to AgFunderNews after closing a $7.5 million round of Series A funding to continue the research and development of its slaughter-free hamburger.
Two strategic investors co-led the funding round: M Ventures, the venture arm of German healthcare, life science, and performance materials giant Merck Group, and The Bell Food Group, a Swiss meat processor and brands company. They were joined by a syndicate of impact investors, including the Glass Wall Syndicate.
The funding will continue Mosa Meat’s efforts to get a hamburger on the market by 2021, a timeline that’s dictated mostly by the need for regulatory approval in the European Union, which takes at least a year and a half, according to Post. The company will launch the burger in the US later.
Cultured meat will require much less energy compared to livestock-based meat, and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of up to 96%, according to a life cycle analysis published in Environmental Science and Technology.
While the cost today is significantly lower than the €250,000 ($300,000) cost of Post’s first lab-grown burger in 2013, there are no guarantees that it will become an affordable alternative to animal-grown beef in the near future.
The most expensive part of the process is the cell production, which is the second of three stages. The first stage is the harvest of cells from animals, which can be done by extracting stem cells from a small biopsy of a beef cow. Then you let those cells proliferate and expand as much as possible — usually into the trillions — by placing them in a growing medium. And the third phase is organizing those cells into packages of 1.5 million cells in a specific shape and condition where they can produce tissue.
The third phase is the most labor-intensive, so Mosa Meats is looking into automating that part with robotics. But the second phase is the most resource-intensive and expensive due to the cost of the media in which the cells grow; this media represents 80% of the total cost.
Post is uncertain how long it will take for the cost to come down to a realistic level for the mass-production of cultured meat for the wider market but is “pretty confident” Mosa Meat will be able to make a hamburger for €10 to sell to restaurants and specialty grocers in 2021.
Reaching a price that all consumers can afford is the goal of many in the cultured meat industry, and for Post, it’s about giving consumers more choice without the limitations of supply or price, or thoughts about externalities.
“It will rely on the effort of many people including the competition to bring the price down of the components and how fast; but there are so many factors there that it’s hard for me to guess in what timeline. It could be in three-to-four years, but it could also take seven years. Cultured meat products might actually form a path towards a more plant-based diet,” he says. “Meat is a very cultural thing – it still refers to humans’ hunter instincts and dominance over other species. We may not consciously think about that when we take a bite, but it’s still somewhere in the back of our minds. Even if cultured meat is molecularly the same, it isn’t produced by killing an animal, and that makes it culturally different. You could argue that if cultured meat helps disconnect meat from our hunter instincts, this could lead to the hunter instinct fading over time, and may make people more open to diets with a higher plant-based component in future.”
Source: Successful Farming