Cultivated meat to hit competitive cost and environmental benchmarks by 2030, research finds
09 Mar 2021 --- Cultivated meat that is produced using renewable energy is likely to compete on costs against conventional meat production in under ten years, reveals new research.
However, cost competitiveness remains an evident benchmark for cultured meat players entering the saturated protein market, which is already dominated by established meat and plant-based players.
Hybrid products combining plant-based meats with cultivated meat may offer a “compelling near-term opportunity” to further reduce costs and hit environmental targets, while more thoroughly biomimicking the meat-eating experience.
This research was conducted by the Dutch independent research organization CE Delft in two separate papers. Both underscore cellular agriculture’s lower environmental footprint in comparison to conventional meat production.
“We are seeing supply chain collaborations coming up in the cultivated meat space and see that sustainability is already an important topic for decision making,” Ingrid Odegard, coordinator food chains at CE Delft, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
The newly released reports from CE Delft – a life cycle assessment (LCA) and techno-economic assessment (TEA) – are among the first reports to be informed by data contributed by companies involved in the cellular agriculture supply chain.
Over 15 companies and one Singaporean government scientific body participated in the CE Delft research papers, including five cultivated meat manufacturers.
Competing with established protein players
As a third contender entering the ring, slaughter-free food grown from animal cells is fighting for affordability on store shelves.
CE Delft’s TEA study found that cultivated meat may hit production costs as low as US$5.66 per kilogram (US$2.57 per pound) in 2030.
The model production facility in CE Delft’s research has an estimated cost of US$450 million, which decreases to US$250 million with improved production efficiencies. This cost is included in the US$5.66 per kilogram production cost estimate.
Even before hitting the commercial mainstream, cultured meat has already been attracting interest from global markets. This is evidenced even in countries whose cuisines traditionally embrace livestock produce.
Last week, for instance, Aleph Farms inked a new deal with global meat heavyweight BRF to bring cell-based steaks to the meat-loving Brazillian market. This followed a partnership with Mitsubishi to scale up these products in Japan, famous for its wagyu beef.
Meanwhile, cultured chicken meat from Eat Just was green-lighted as an ingredient in chicken bites for sale in Singapore last December. The island nation is the first to give the go-ahead to meat grown in a lab following a rigorous consultation and review process by the Singapore Food Agency.
However, to realize competitive production cost by 2030, relaxed payback periods and a menu of financing strategies and incentives will be needed to lower the cost burden on cultivated meat manufacturers and install new infrastructure at high rates, the CE Delft researchers note.
Conventional meat comparison
The CE Delft studies assessed the costs and environmental impacts of a commercial-scale facility that produces 10,000 metric tons of a ground cultivated meat product per year. If renewables are used, the carbon footprint of cultivated meat production was found to drop by 80 percent.
Cultivated meat produced using renewable energy was found to reduce global warming impacts by 17 percent, 52 percent, and 85 to 92 percent compared to conventional chicken, pork, and beef production, respectively.
Similar gains are not expected in the conventional meat industry, where fossil fuels account for only approximately 20 percent of carbon emissions throughout the supply chain.
Spanning from land-use change and agricultural production to packaging and waste management, food system emissions were estimated at 18 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2015.
That represents 34 percent of total emissions, a share that is gradually declining – from 44 percent in 1990 – even as food systems emissions kept increasing in absolute amounts.
According to the CE Delft researchers, cultivated meat is expected to be less polluting (29 to 93 percent reduction) compared to all forms of conventional meat.
The novel food variety also uses significantly less (51 to 78 percent reduction) blue water – sourced from surface and groundwater reservoirs – than conventional beef production, while it is about the same as chicken and pork.
Meat the future
Switching to cultivated meat could bring other positive benefits, including mitigation of antibiotic resistance, foodborne illness and zoonotic disease risk associated with conventional animal agriculture, restoration of terrestrial and marine habitats, and a decreased rate of biodiversity loss.
“We will continue to work with specific cultivated meat companies to provide specific environmental profiles and help such companies to incorporate sustainable choices in their development process,” remarks Odegard.
Also fueling advancements in this dynamic space, cell-based milk and formula company TurtleTree Labs recently launched TurtleTree Scientific – an arm dedicated to “the growth of food-grade growth factors” to tackle high costs and advance cell-based foods.
By Benjamin Ferrer
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