Will 2019 be the year of clean meat?
For the laymen, “clean meat” is a term used to indicate real meat produced by in vitro cultivation of animal cells, without the need to slaughter any animal.
The end of animal farming, or even its substantial reduction, would bring huge benefits to the planet, our health, and of course the lives of the 56 billion animals slaughtered annually for meat consumption.
Obviously, end-of-the-year predictions are always a game as much as a rational analysis, but that’s why we like them.
1) Kinder World: The biggest news
Paul Shapiro: Sales. There will likely be actual sales of clean meat by the end of 2019.
Actually, it might even happen before the end of 2018. There’s a company called Just that’s pretty confident it will sell at least clean meat samples by the end of the current year. Even if it will be just a symbolic, one-time event, it will still be important in that it shows there’s a government willing to authorize an actual sale today.
That may not be the “biggest” news, but I do think it’s important news.
2) The country where clean meat will be sold first
If I had to guess, I’d say somewhere in Asia. However, I have to say that the US government has been impressively proactive in this field so far, with the USDA and FDA laying out an early framework for the regulation of cultured meat. I don’t think that there are other countries in the world whose governmental agencies have done the same.
The FDA and the USDA are doing exemplary work so far to position the United States at the forefront of this cellular agriculture revolution.
I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Israel further expand its leadership in clean meat. Between the meat industry’s investment in SuperMeat and the steak just produced by Aleph Farms, Israel really is in some ways a Mecca for the cultured meat world.
3) The biggest obstacle
Regulations that would be designed to protect incumbent livestock industries by stifling this type of agricultural innovation could potentially kill this industry before it’s even born.
There’s also the risk that the clean meat industry will start flourishing in certain countries while in others there will be just too many legal restrictions for companies to operate effectively.
4) Unexpected new players in the field
There are about two dozens companies trying to produce clean animal products at the moment and several of them have formed in 2018. Incumbents like Memphis Meats are doing very impressive work, and I don’t doubt that even more new, exciting companies will join the fray and form in 2019. Not all will survive. In fact, one of those founded in 2018 has already been put on ice.
But this promising field will continue to get bigger. And it will focus on a greater variety of products. For example, one of the companies I’m particularly excited about, Mission Barns, was founded in 2018 to focus just on producing clean fat, which I tried earlier in the year and loved.
5) Number of people that will have eaten clean meat by the end of 2019 (PS. I hope to be one of them)
I’d say that at the moment perhaps around 500-1000 people tried clean meat. With the actual figure being probably closer to the 500 mark, but it’s hard to tell. New Age Meats, for example, did a tasting of its (apparently delicious) sausage for 40 people this year, so the events where lay people get to try it are getting bigger.
By the end of 2019, and I’m gonna be really optimistic, I hope that maybe around 3,000 people will have sampled clean meat.
6) The type of clean meat that will be more successful
There will be a lot of focus on poultry and fish, especially fish, actually. If you look at the cost of producing clean fish with cellular agriculture - or cellular aquaculture as I should say - you see that it’s lower than the cost of producing, let’s say, clean beef.
One reason for this is that fish are cold-blooded animals. Therefore, you don’t need to keep your culture at as high a temperature like you have to do with mammals.
Moreover, some kind of fish, like the bluefin tuna, are already extremely expensive so the price tag of their clean alternatives might be quite competitive. Between Finless Foods, Wild Type, and Blue Nalu - all impressive companies that have raised millions each - there’s already a race to bring the first cultured fish to market.
7) Your own role in the clean meat movement
I’ll keep working as an advocate for this field, as an author, and an entrepreneur. I’m particularly enthusiastic about The Better Meat Co., the b2b company that I co-founded in 2018 that’s already working with clean meat start-ups. I’ll continue writing about the latest developments in this field, and will be touring in some other countries to promote my book Clean Meat in Asia and Europe as those new editions are released.
Speaking of which, over the past couple of years, there has been a big debate in the clean meat movement on how to actually call it. Eventually, the Good Food Institute concluded that “clean meat” is the expression that elicits the most positive response in potential buyers.
However, the expression doesn’t translate equally well in all languages. For example, I’m Italian and I’m pretty sure we’re never going to call it “carne pulita”. I was wondering how this aspect impacted the translation of your book’s title in different languages.
Yes, “clean meat” doesn’t work equally well in all languages, which is why in some countries the title of the book will be Cultured Meat (like in the Netherlands).
But, even in the United States, the matter isn’t settled. I’ve written a little about this but “clean meat” does seem both accurate and performs the best with consumers.
That said, there may be good reason to consider other options, and I’m certainly open to them. I now use “cultured meat” pretty often too. Some are using “cell-based meat.” “Clean meat” was never intended to be a regulatory term, of course, just as clean energy isn’t a legal term, either.
But I think the decision of what term advocates for the industry should use ought to be based on evidence of what’s both accurate and performs well with consumers. I’m not wedded to any particular term, and look forward to the research that the Good Food Institute and Mattson are doing on this important topic.