The building of the world’s largest bioreactors to produce cultivated meat has been announced, with the potential to supply tens of thousands of shops and restaurants. Experts said the move could be a “gamechanger” for the nascent industry.
The US company Good Meat said the bioreactors would grow more than 13,000 tons of chicken and beef a year. It will use cells taken from cell banks or eggs, so the meat will not require the slaughter of any livestock.
There are about 170 companies around the world working on cultured meat, but Good Meat is the only company to have gained regulatory approval to sell its product to the public. It began serving cultivated chicken in Singapore in December 2020.
Cattle, chicken and other livestock have a huge environmental impact due to methane emissions, the destruction of forests and water use. The consumption of conventional meat in rich nations must fall scientists to beat the climate crisis, say. Proponents of cultivated meat say it can provide the same taste and feel as conventional meat but with a far smaller environmental impact.
The creation of Good Meat’s 10 new bioreactors is under way, the company says, each of which has a capacity of 250,000 liters and will stand four storeys tall, far bigger than any constructed to date. The US site for the facility is due to be finalized within three months and operational in late 2024, reaching 11,800 tons a year by 2026 and 13,700 tons by 2030.
The bioreactors are being manufactured as part of an agreement with ABEC, a leading bioprocess equipment manufacturer, which is also making a 6,000-litre bioreactor for Good Meat’s Singapore site – this is scheduled to begin production in early 2023 and will itself be the biggest cultured meat bioreactor installed to date.
“I think our grandchildren are going to ask us about why we ate meat from slaughtered animals back in 2022,” said Josh Tetrick, the chief executive of Good Meat’s parent company, Eat Just.
“Cultivated meat matters because it will enable us to eat meat without all the harm, without bulldozing forests, without the need to slaughter an animal, without the need to use antibiotics, without accelerating zoonotic diseases.
“The bioreactors will be far and away the largest, not only in the cultivated meat industry, but in the biopharma industry too. So the design and engineering challenges are significant, the capital investments are significant and the potential to take another step toward shifting society away from slaughtered meat is significant.”
One issue will be to ensure that the meat cells grow as well in large reactors as they do in the smaller ones used so far.
Cultivated meat has not yet been approved for sale by the US Food and Drug Administration. “We’ve submitted our application,” Tetrick said. “We’ve found the agency to be fully engaged, asking all the questions you’d expect, from cell identification to final product. We’d prefer not to try to predict if and when [approval] will occur.” Tetrick also said the company had produced a cell growth serum that does not require the use of bovine foetuses, which were previously widely used.
Another cultivated meat company, Upside Foods, raised $400m in April, in part to fund a commercial-scale facility to produce thousands of tons of meat a year. It has not yet chosen the size of the bioreactors. “We honestly don’t even know what the limits are,” said Amy Chen, the chief operating officer at Upside Foods. “But we will make some final decisions around the size of the cultivators as it gets closer to the construction date.”
The taste of the cultivated meat has been key in raising investment, Chen said. “Before I agreed to come on, I had to try the meat. I had that first bite and realised that it was simultaneously one of the most unremarkable things and one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever eaten. It’s just meat.”
Other companies with facilities for cultivated meat include SuperMeat, Mosa Meat, Future Meat Technologies and the seafood producers Wildtype and Shiok Meats. There are also many companies making plant-based meat replacements.
Caroline Bushnell, a vice-president at the non-profit Good Food Institute, said: “The scale of [Good Meat’s] facility represents real and growing confidence from companies in the commercial potential of cultivated meat. This plant, with its potential to decrease production costs, could be a gamechanger in the race to bring meat grown from cells to restaurants, supermarkets and dining tables.”.
Rosie Wardle, a partner and co-founder at Synthesis Capital, said: “This announcement is another example of the cultivated meat industry reaching an inflection point and moving from ‘proof of concept’ to commercial scale. As investors, we are excited about the potential for this part of the alternative protein industry to play an important role in the future of food.” Synthesis Capital announced a $300m fund on Wednesday to invest in alternative proteins and food technology, the largest dedicated fund in the sector to date.
Most of the meat people eat in 2040 will not come from slaughtered animals, according to a 2019 report from the consultancy Kearney that predicts 60% will be either grown in vats or replaced with plant-based alternatives.