Due to the increased demand for sustainable and plant-based food options, alternative food sources are becoming a “hot topic”. One interesting food source is lab-grown meat, a process where stem cells of an animal are cultivated to create meat for consumption without having to kill the animal. This industry is in an exciting moment. In December 2020, California-based company Eat Just gained approval to sell its lab-grown chicken nuggets in Singapore. More recently, the company raised $97 million building on a $170 million raise in May. Investors are clearly positive about the lab-grown meat industry but there is one key issue: scalability. Can lab-grown meat feed the world? If innovative companies (backed by investors) can answer this question, then this technology will truly be revolutionary.
There are three issues when it comes to analysing whether lab-grown meat can be massed produced:
- Economic scalability. It is uncertain how cost-effective mass-produced lab-grown meat will be. The current bioreactors used by companies are expensive to operate and will need to be adapted so that they can be used on an industrial level. Therefore, if mass-producing the meat will be expensive for the producers, purchasing the meat will be expensive for the consumers. Conventional meat is relatively cheap and affordable, so until lab-grown meat becomes cost-effective and cheaper for consumers, it will unlikely be the meat of choice.
- Environmental impact. Currently, the process is slow and requires a large amount energy which in turn increases carbon emissions. Although experts say that mass producing lab-grown foods will produce lower emissions and use less water than conventional meat, the energy demands are still high and may increase as producers look to increase the speed of the process. If producers can scale up the process by using renewable sources of energy, this would be an exciting proposition.
- Diversity. Across the world, we eat a diverse range of meat as well as a diverse range of body parts on each animal. So far, the technology has not been able to replicate meals and delicacies across the world such as chicken feet, ox tongue, or even meat on the bone. Currently, lab-grown meat has been limited to chicken nuggets. However, the technology is constantly developing so hopefully we will see diversification in the future.
The lab-grown meat industry is an exciting one for entrepreneurs, investors and consumers alike. Provided that the above issues are addressed, then scaling up is a real possibility. The investment and technology are available. The world is waiting…