Year in review: What 2019 meant for cultured meat


In December 2018, I asked Paul Shapiro, a prominent animal protection advocate and the CEO of The Better Meat Co., to help me formulate some predictions on the future of cultured meat, which is slaughter-free meat produced by in vitro cultivation of animal cells.

At the time, Shapiro had just published Clean Meat, a book where he explained how this new technology may overhaul the meat industry, ending intensive animal farming.

One year later, cultured meat is gaining momentum and the first samples of lab-grown chicken nuggets seem about to hit the market, possibly in Singapore.

But what else happened in this burgeoning field over the past 12 months? Let’s have a look at what 2019 meant for cultured meat in five key events.

1) Lobbying

In August, five US-based cultured meat companies (JUST, Memphis Meats, Finless Foods, BlueNalu and Fork and Goode) joined forces to educate and advocate on behalf of the industry.

The formation of the group—called the Alliance for Meat, Poultry & Seafood Innovation—was a big deal because it signalled the industry's maturity and its willingness to bring cultured meat to a new phase, starting to tackle the regulatory hurdles. 

2) Building

To scale the product, companies need proper production plants. In October, Israeli startup Future Meat Technologies announced plans to build the world’s first production facility to grow cultured meat south of Tel Aviv.

3) Labelling

Lab-grown, cell-based, artificial, synthetic, frankmeat—over the years, cultured meat has been called in so many different ways.

In 2018, the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit advocating for meat alternatives, was supporting “clean meat” as the term that captured the new product’s potential the best.

However, in 2019, following a study they conducted in collaboration with food innovation firm Mattson, the organization changed their mind and they now champion “cultivated meat” as the best term to accurately describe what this product is while eleciting positive feedback in the customers. Will 2020 bring us new names or is “cultivated meat” destined to stick?

4) Funding 

Since the field emerged as a commercial industry in 2015, $155 million has been funneled into the sector with investments growing by 85% between 2017 and 2018.

As of October, around $83 million of publicly disclosed investments have fueled the growth of cultured meat in 2019, including $14 million raised by Future Meat Technologies to build its production plant and $10 million raised by Dutch company Meatable to pivot to cultured pork (a much-needed innovation given that a quarter of the world's pig population is currently ravaged by a swine epidemic).

McKinsey estimates that the global meat market is worth approximately $ 1.7 trillion, so the coming decade will present plenty of opportunities for many more companies and investors with a big appetite.

5) Polluting? 

Cultured meat is vaunted as an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional livestock agriculture.

Dutch startup MOSA Meat claims that their process to grow meat requires 99% less land and 96% less water than intensive animal farming.

Nevertheless, in 2019, concerns regarding the energetic consumption of cultured meat plants started to emerge. A production facility may suck up so much energy to make the process more polluting than animal farming due to the increased emissions of carbon dioxide. A move to clean and renewable sources of energy would then be needed to make the sector climate-proof.

The bottom line is that cultured meat faces technological, legal and even linguistic hurdles but the industry is beefing up its efforts to make this revolutionary idea a mainstream dining option.

In all of this, Shapiro’s book has been translated into several different languages including Korean and Dutch, spreading the word about a technology that truly has the potential of changing the world.

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