As the world transitions into a more sustainable and environmentally friendly civilization, much more than just reducing use of fossil fuels is necessary. Pollution as a whole needs to be managed and reduce, and environmentally destructive industries need to be reimagined. One such industry is the meat industry, where farming destroys ecosystems and pollutes the air and water with a variety of polluting chemicals.
Leading the way forward to a better version of meat, are start-ups that are developing lab grown meat, as well as plant based meat, and additionally, a combination of thoes approaches, in the hope of creating future food products that are healthier, more sustainable, cheaper, and perhaps even tastier that the traditional livestock meat industry that has existed for thousands of years. Biftek.co is one of these companies, and PlanetTechNews.com recently had the opportunity to interview them about their entrepreneurial journey.
Where was the idea for Biftek born?
I am a serial entreprenuer that worked in agritech and climate tech. Those two taught me that industrial farming ruins climate and consequently you have difficulty in food prodcution. Novel ways shuould be invented to overcome the climate change. That is why we dive into alternative protein ecosystem.
What exactly is lab grown meat & is it cruel in the sense that the stem cells are extracted from animals in the first case?
Lab-grown meat, also known as cultivated meat or cell-based meat, is produced by culturing animal cells in a lab setting, rather than by traditional animal agriculture methods. The process begins by extracting a small sample of animal cells, typically through a harmless biopsy procedure, which does not harm or kill the animal. These cells, often stem cells, are then nurtured in a culture medium that provides the necessary nutrients and conditions for their growth. Over time, these cells multiply and differentiate into muscle cells, fat cells, and other components that make up meat.
The key distinction with lab-grown meat is that it doesn’t require raising and slaughtering entire animals for consumption. Instead, it involves growing muscle tissue directly from animal cells. This approach has the potential to address many of the ethical, environmental, and public health concerns associated with traditional livestock farming.
While the initial extraction of cells may involve a minor procedure, it is important to note that no animals are harmed or killed during the production of lab-grown meat. Moreover, the goal of cultivated meat is to reduce the overall demand for animal agriculture, which is associated with significant animal suffering on a large scale.
Can it be called meat-free even if it’s made from the stem cells of animals?
Lab-grown meat, despite being derived from animal cells, is not typically referred to as “meat-free” because it does involve animal origin. The term “meat-free” is commonly used to describe food products that do not contain any animal-derived ingredients. Since lab-grown meat starts with animal cells, it is not considered meat-free in the strictest sense.
Where do you see lab grown meat in 3-5years?
In the next 3-5 years, I anticipate significant progress and advancements in the field of lab-grown meat. Here are a few potential developments and trends that could shape the future of cultivated meat:
- Increased Availability: Lab-grown meat is likely to become more accessible to consumers. Initially, it may be introduced in high-end restaurants or niche markets due to the production costs, but as technology improves and economies of scale are achieved, it is expected to become more affordable and widely available.
- Expansion of Product Variety: Currently, lab-grown meat focuses primarily on producing minced meat or ground meat products. However, we can expect to see a broader range of meat products being developed, including whole cuts, steaks, sausages, and even processed meat products like burgers and nuggets. The industry will strive to replicate the variety found in traditional animal agriculture.
- Improved Taste and Texture: One of the ongoing challenges for lab-grown meat is achieving a taste and texture that matches or exceeds that of conventional meat. In the next few years, significant progress is expected in refining the flavor, juiciness, and mouthfeel of cultivated meat products, making them more appealing to consumers.
- Regulatory Framework: Governments and regulatory bodies around the world are actively working on establishing clear guidelines and frameworks for lab-grown meat. In the next few years, we can anticipate the development of robust regulations specific to cultivated meat, ensuring safety, labeling standards, and consumer confidence.
- Market Expansion: As public awareness of the environmental and ethical issues surrounding traditional meat production grows, there is a growing market demand for sustainable and ethical food choices. Lab-grown meat has the potential to cater to this demand and attract consumers who are seeking alternatives to conventionally produced meat.
- Partnerships and Investment: The cultivated meat industry is likely to witness increased investments and partnerships with established food companies and agricultural organizations. Collaborations can help accelerate research, development, and commercialization efforts, leading to faster adoption and market penetration.
While it’s challenging to predict the exact trajectory of any emerging technology, these are some of the trends and possibilities that could shape the landscape of lab-grown meat in the coming years. The potential for positive impact on sustainability, animal welfare, and food security makes it an exciting area to watch and support.
Do you consume lab grown meat yourself, Where do you stand on the idea of vegetarianism?
I will choose to consume cultured meat for sure. Also please note that it’s important to understnad that there is a spectrum of dietary choices between consuming conventional meat and adopting a vegetarian lifestyle. Flexitarianism, for example, involves reducing meat consumption without complete elimination, while pescetarianism allows for the inclusion of seafood but excludes other meats.
Ultimately, the decision to consume lab-grown meat or adopt vegetarianism is subjective and personal. It’s essential to respect individual choices and engage in informed discussions that consider various perspectives on food choices, ethics, and sustainability.
Why do we need lab Grown meat when there are so many meat replacement products out there? Is the market saturated?
Lab-grown meat and meat replacement products serve different purposes and can coexist in the market to address different consumer needs and preferences.
- Meat-like Experience: Lab-grown meat aims to provide an experience that closely mimics conventional meat in terms of taste, texture, and cooking properties. While meat replacement products have made significant strides in imitating meat, lab-grown meat offers the potential to provide a more authentic meat-eating experience.
- Nutritional Composition: Lab-grown meat has the advantage of being composed of real animal cells, which means it can have a nutrient profile similar to conventional meat. It can contain muscle tissue, fats, and other components found in meat, offering a familiar nutritional profile that may appeal to individuals who desire meat’s specific nutrients.
- Environmental Impact: While meat replacement products can be more environmentally friendly than conventional meat, lab-grown meat has the potential to further reduce the environmental footprint associated with animal agriculture. It requires fewer resources such as land, water, and energy, and can potentially generate lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to both conventional meat and some meat replacement products.
- Addressing Meat Demand: The global demand for meat is still substantial, and meat replacement products alone may not completely satisfy the preferences and demands of all consumers. Lab-grown meat can provide an additional option for individuals who are not willing to give up meat entirely but are concerned about the ethical and environmental implications of traditional meat production.
What have been the biggest challenges for Biftek?
As the co-founder and CEO of Biftek, I can provide some insights into the challenges we have faced as a cultivated meat startup. While every company’s experience is unique, here are some common challenges faced by many players in the industry:
- Technological Complexity: Developing and scaling up the production of lab-grown meat involves complex processes, including cell culture, tissue engineering, and bioreactor design. Overcoming technical hurdles, optimizing production methods, and achieving cost efficiency have been significant challenges for many cultivated meat companies, including Biftek.
- Cost and Scale: At the early stages of the industry, the cost of producing lab-grown meat has been high. Cultivated meat companies have had to invest in research, development, and infrastructure, which can be financially demanding. Scaling up production to achieve cost competitiveness with conventional meat remains a significant challenge.
- Regulatory Framework: The regulatory landscape for lab-grown meat is still evolving in many jurisdictions. Developing a clear and predictable regulatory framework that ensures safety, labeling standards, and market access can be challenging.
- Consumer Acceptance: Lab-grown meat is a relatively new concept for many consumers. Building awareness, understanding, and acceptance among consumers can be a challenge. Overcoming skepticism, addressing concerns about safety, taste, and perception, and creating a positive consumer perception of lab-grown meat require concerted efforts in communication and education.
Despite these challenges, Biftek and other cultivated meat companies are committed to overcoming the obstacles through research, development, and collaboration. The industry is making significant progress, and each challenge presents an opportunity for innovation and growth.
What would you say to those who see it as artificial and not the “real” thing?
To those who perceive lab-grown meat as artificial and not the “real” thing, I would emphasize the following points:
- Molecular Composition: Lab-grown meat is composed of real animal cells. The process involves taking cells from an animal and cultivating them in a lab setting. The resulting meat is made up of the same muscle tissue, fats, and other components found in conventionally produced meat. From a molecular perspective, lab-grown meat is indeed real meat.
- Environmental and Ethical Considerations: Lab-grown meat offers several advantages over traditional meat production. It significantly reduces the environmental impact associated with animal agriculture, such as land use, water consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, lab-grown meat eliminates the need to raise and slaughter entire animals, which addresses ethical concerns related to animal welfare.
- Nutrition and Taste: Lab-grown meat has the potential to offer the same nutritional profile as conventional meat, providing essential nutrients such as proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Additionally, ongoing research and development are focused on improving the taste, texture, and sensory experience of lab-grown meat to closely match or even exceed the qualities of conventionally produced meat.
- Innovation and Progress: The development of lab-grown meat represents a remarkable technological achievement. It combines disciplines such as biology, tissue engineering, and biotechnology to create a more sustainable and humane approach to meat production. Lab-grown meat is an example of human ingenuity and innovation addressing the challenges of our current food system.
It’s important to acknowledge that perceptions of what is considered “real” may vary among individuals. However, by highlighting the scientific basis, sustainability benefits, and potential improvements in taste and nutrition, we can encourage a broader acceptance and understanding of lab-grown meat as a valuable and legitimate alternative to conventionally produced meat.
Are you based in the US only or do you have an international market? If not, what is the plan to be international?
We have plans to be an international player. Our headquarter is in the USA, labs in Turkey. Also we would like to open liaslon offices and labs in the Netherlands and UAE.
In terms of protein content, and other nutrients, how does lab grown meat compare gram from gram to “actual meat”?
How can eating lab grown meat help the environment?
Lab-grown meat, also known as cultivated meat, can have a nutritional profile similar to conventional meat in terms of protein content and other nutrients. The specific composition may vary depending on the cell types used and the cultivation methods employed. However, lab-grown meat has the potential to provide comparable amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals when compared gram for gram to conventionally produced meat.
Lab-grown meat can be designed to have specific nutritional characteristics, allowing for control over fat content, amino acid profiles, and other nutritional factors. This flexibility opens up possibilities for optimizing the nutritional composition to meet specific dietary needs or preferences.
Regarding the environmental benefits of lab-grown meat, it has the potential to contribute to sustainability in several ways:
- Reduced Land Use: Traditional meat production requires vast amounts of land for grazing, feed production, and animal husbandry. Lab-grown meat production can significantly reduce land requirements by eliminating the need for large-scale animal farming, thus helping to conserve natural habitats and biodiversity.
- Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The livestock sector is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, primarily through methane production from animal digestion and manure management, as well as carbon dioxide emissions from land-use change. Lab-grown meat production has the potential to generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions, particularly if it relies on renewable energy sources and optimized production processes.
- Reduced Water Consumption: Animal agriculture consumes substantial amounts of water for drinking, irrigation, and feed production. Lab-grown meat production can require significantly less water compared to traditional livestock farming, as it involves a controlled environment and more efficient water usage.
- Mitigation of Antibiotic Use: In conventional animal agriculture, antibiotics are often used to prevent diseases and promote growth in livestock. This practice contributes to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Lab-grown meat eliminates the need for antibiotics, reducing the risks associated with antibiotic misuse.
- Preservation of Natural Resources: The production of lab-grown meat has the potential to reduce reliance on natural resources such as feed crops, freshwater, and fossil fuels. This reduction in resource consumption can contribute to a more sustainable and resilient food system.
In terms of cost, can lab grown meat ever be affordable for the average consumer? I.e. the same price, or even cheaper than traditional meat?
Cost is one of the significant challenges for lab-grown meat at its current stage of development. However, the goal of many cultivated meat companies is to achieve cost parity or even affordability comparable to conventional meat.
It’s important to note that achieving cost parity with conventional meat will likely take time, as the cultivated meat industry is still in its early stages of development. However, there is optimism within the industry that with continued innovation, research, and scaling, the cost of lab-grown meat can become competitive with traditional meat, making it affordable for the average consumer.
Furthermore, it’s worth considering that the cost of lab-grown meat should be evaluated in the context of its long-term benefits. Lab-grown meat has the potential to offer advantages such as reduced environmental impact, improved animal welfare, and more efficient resource utilization. If these benefits are considered in the cost analysis, lab-grown meat can be seen as an investment in a more sustainable and ethical food system.
As the industry progresses and technological advancements continue, there is an expectation that the cost of lab-grown meat will decrease, making it a viable and affordable option for a wider range of consumers.
In terms of awareness, what are you doing to grow awareness of lab grown meat?
Many cultivated meat companies prioritize consumer education as a key component of their awareness-building strategies. They invest in educational materials, online resources, and websites to provide accurate information about lab-grown meat, its benefits, and the technology behind it. This helps address misconceptions and increase understanding among consumers.
And finally I’ve noticed you employ some very cute four-legged friends (dogs) are they all fans of the taste of Biftek?
It’s worth noting that our dogs, like humans, have individual tastes and preferences when it comes to food. While lab-grown meat is designed to closely mimic the taste and texture of conventional meat, individual dogs may have varying preferences and reactions to different types of food. Some dogs may enjoy the taste of lab-grown meat, while others may have different preferences or dietary needs.
Interview by Shrina Karia,
A big thank you to Biftek.co for this interview!