Technology of the Future - Lab Grown Meat

November 30, 2022
min read
Share this post

Back in 2013, as archaeologists were digging up Richard III from a car park in Leicester, and the words ‘twerk’ and ‘selfie’ were added to the dictionary, global media gathered as a selection of food critics sat down to sample the culinary delights of the world's first lab grown burger. Success! They liked it! But, there were two pretty major problems.

Firstly, it had taken over 2 years to make (not really conducive to satisfying the hungry lunchtime customer) and secondly it cost around the $300,000 mark (given you’d waited 2 years for your burger this seemed a tad expensive). Rather than be disheartened, scientists saw it as the first step in paving the way to the future of how we eat. They were right … fast forward almost a decade and things are starting to look pretty interesting.

In November of 2022 history was made by a company called Upside Foods; they became the first company in the world to receive a green light from the FDA in America for their cultivated chicken. While there are still some hoops to jump through before their chicken flies onto supermarket shelves (pun intended), the ‘no questions ’letter of approval from the FDA puts them firmly on the tracks to imminent retail sales.  The FDA aren’t their only supporters either. Investment from the likes of Bill Gates and food giants Cargill and Tyson Foods, has propelled the company to unicorn status with them already worth over a billion dollars.  


Why do we need it?

For two main reasons. First up the world’s population is projected to exceed 9.1 billion by2050. This presents a very real issue if agriculture and food production continue as is; there simply won’t be enough to feed everybody.  Second, the agricultural and food industry’s contribution to climate change is vast, coming in second behind burning fossil fuels – this needs to change if we stand any hope of meeting global targets.  

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation estimate livestock account for around 14.5% of global greenhouse emissions, if you factor in the output from food production as a whole, that number rises to huge 25%. Land usage is even more extreme. According to Our World in Data, 106km2 of the earth’s landmass is habitable, however we’ve turned almost 50% of it over to agriculture and that figure’s growing. The University of Oxford estimate that over 80% of agricultural land is used for rearing beef cattle, but here’s the problem … this livestock only produces enough calorific value to account for 18% of the world’s calorie requirements – those figures simply aren’t sustainable as the population grows.

Water’s a similar issue and we’re all becoming increasingly aware of its scarcity, particularly in the summer months, thanks to ever changing weather systems and climate impact. The amount of water we have on Earth is finite – we can’t make any more, so we’ve got what we’ve got and that’s it. That’s a big problem when you realise that the livestock and food production industry use 70% of the planets available freshwater. With a growing population we need that water for humanity so things to need to change, and they need to change fast.

The outlook can feel a bit grim … but it doesn’t have to be. Technological advancements are really changing the landscape and being able to cultivate cells to become meat is a massive leap forward in ensuring we can sustainably feed the planet.

So what exactly is lab grown meat, and what can we expect the future to look like?

A Solution

By taking animal cells and providing the optimal environment for growth, scientists expect them to roughly double every 24 hours. If we skip back to chicken and Upside Foods, their research and tech allows for the cells from a single animal to grow the equivalent meat output of hundreds of thousands of farm reared chickens. Equally impressive is the speed they say they can do it in … 3 weeks from cultivation to ready to coat in your favourite spices and breadcrumbs. They can keep cultivating from the original cells too, they believe that one set of cells should be able to be grown from for years, if not decades. While our aesthetic expectations of what meat looks like might need to change, for example there’s no skin or bone, we can rest assured that it should taste exactly the same.

There are other benefits too. As the worlds requirements have increased so has the need for larger animals less prone to illness. This in turn means they’re fed greater quantities of non-natural food often grown with pesticides and other chemicals and they’re treated with antibiotics and drugs to prevent infection and disease. These seep through the food chain so when we eat meat, we’re ingesting everything the animal has. Cultivated meat doesn’t have any of these extra needs so is arguably ‘cleaner’ and as The Academy of Nutrition and Dietics discusses it also has the potential to be enhanced, for example reducing harmful fats, lowering cholesterol and adding extra vitamins and minerals.  

While it’s not the only solution needed, the reality is that the widespread adoption of cultivated meat would have a huge impact on the problems we’ve already discussed. Upside Foods forecasts project that moving to lab grown solutions would use 77% less water and 62% less land than current conventional meat production. That’s huge. Combine that with the renewable energy used at manufacturing plants which would see a sizeable reduction in CO2 emissions, and you’ve a recipe for something with the potential to be revolutionary.


The Future

It’s all well and good tackling where our beef comes from but let’s be honest … it’s not a proper burger without the cheese. So, what about other animal derived products? Well, solutions are all in the pipeline.

Perfect Day are a US based company already selling its products in over 5000 American stores. They make everything from ice cream to cream cheese by taking animal protein blueprints and programming a genetically modified fungus to recreate them. It’s a new way of using a technology that already exists … it’s the method that was developed to manufacture insulin.

Every Company are using precision fermentation from DNA sequencing to manufacture animal proteins and have successfully pioneered the first cultivated egg white. They’ve also created a soluble, tasteless protein which can be added to other products with no impact on the taste or texture.

For those among us with a more eclectic palate and desire to sample the unusual, meet the UK based company Primeval Foods, launched this year. They believe that the reason we eat the meat we do is simply because of circumstance, not preference. Domesticating and rearing a pig would have been easier for our ancestors than doing the same thing with a lot of other animals. Subsequently they’re working away on cultivating a whole host of lab grown meat, with a focus on establishing which is the tastiest and most nutritious. If you fancy sampling some of their offerings, they’re planning imminent tasting sessions in New York and London.

While a lot of the big players in the lab grown industry call the US home, there are more and more popping up in the UK. In addition to Primeval Foods, there are some great examples such as Ivy Farm based out of Oxford University. They’re aiming to have cultivated sausages in supermarkets in 2023 with plans to produce 12,000tonnes of lab grown pork products by 2025. Put in perspective, this would save an incredible 170,000 pigs from slaughter. That’s impressive. Check out Newcastle University spin off, CellulaREvolution, too. In case the name doesn’t give it away, they’re looking to revolutionise how lab grown cells are grown, aiming to generate higher yield at much lower cost.

And to finish, we can’t forget our environmentally conscious pets. Agronomics who are a London based leader in cellular agriculture have partnered with Roslin Technologies (famous for Dolly the sheep…) to begin exploring cultivated dog food. 20% of the world’s livestock is currently used for pet food production, Good Dog Food aim not only to remove the need for reared meat in the process but to do so in a way that is clean, ethical and sustainable. We’re pretty certain the YOPLA dogs would give three woofs to that.

While we can’t grow meat for you, we’re very inspired by how technology is shaping the future and what that can do for all businesses, big and small. Ten years ago a lab grown burger cost $300,000 dollars and took 2 years to make, yet here we are a decade later talking about it becoming a real alternative to reared meat. The right investments in technology and infrastructure can make phenomenal differences toa company. If you’d like to have a chat about how YOPLA can help your business build the perfect software solution … or even just debate what toppings you'd like on your lab grown burger, get in touch today – we’d love to hear from you!  


Share this post
Future Tech
Co-Founder, Yopla
Some of the clients we've worked with...