I want to be a cell farmer!

The cultured meat sector is making steady progress. According to the latest report by The Good Food Institute focusing on the year 2020, a period in which, despite the global crisis, investments, research, and business projects in alternative proteins have grown significantly.

The Good Food Institute’s recently released ‘State of the Cultured Meat Industry 2020’ report provides a comprehensive review of the evolution of alternative animal-based proteins through cellular agriculture. The study details the business landscape, investments, regulatory developments, and scientific progress in cultured meat production, which is expanding by the world rapidly and steadily.

Some of the most significant data collected in the document are evidence of this:

More than 70 companies focused on cultured meat development projects, services, or end products were officially registered by the end of 2020, compared to 55 counted in 2019.

– Companies involved in the cultured meat sector reached a combined investment of $366m in the 2020 financial year, almost six times the amount invested in 2019.

Around 15 types of cultured meat are being made by startups, including beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, duck, whitefish, salmon, tuna, foie gras, lamb, kangaroo, horse, and sturgeon.

2020 was a pivotal year for the cultured meat sector. The industry made significant progress in scaling up technology, through trade partnerships and creating a key regulatory precedent. And it seems that 2020 is but a prelude to ongoing developments in 2021 and beyond.

Many of the experts consulted by The Good Food Institute agree. Natalie Rubio, a researcher at New Harvest, believes that “cellular agriculture will evolve into its field of study and will feature as a degree at major universities, with its curriculum“. In this line, she dares to predict that soon we will hear from the mouths of the new generations: I want to be a cell farmer!

Public investment in cultured meat

Another focus of the report is on public sector support. To shorten the time to large-scale commercialization of cultured meat, governments should “prioritize cultured meat research and create a supportive framework for the development of this critical industry“. The study notes that “public funding for cultured meat would dramatically improve the productivity of our food system and the growth of our economy” and is also “an important lever for diversifying our food supply, ensuring both variety and safety“.

An industry as disruptive as alternative proteins requires a high-risk initial R&D phase and is increasingly in need of production, two areas in which governments have historically played an important role. Thus, governments have been key in the development of high-tech industries such as semiconductors and solar energy, and there is an opportunity to do the same in the cultured meat sector.

In general, cultured meat has lacked public funding until now, but 2020 brought the first positive news and evidence that the public sector is willing to invest in the cultured meat sector.

Public agencies around the world are beginning to recognize the importance of supporting cultured meat research and commercialization. For example, the US government, through a grant from the National Science Foundation, awarded a total of $3.55 million for open access to cultured meat research. This grant will be awarded over five years to a team of researchers at the University of California. The grant is not only the largest US government investment in cultured meat research to date, it is the first cultured meat grant awarded by the US government to a university rather than a company.

In Japan, Integriculture obtained $2.2 million from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry to help fund a small-scale installation of the company’s CulNet system.

And, of course, the report highlights the case of BioTech Foods, which, leading the Meat4All consortium to develop cultured meat capable of meeting protein demand without animal slaughter and lower environmental impact, has received a $3.2 million grant through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program.  

In conclusion, a 2020 balance sheet to allow us to think of cultured meat as a reality and a sustainable alternative that is ever closer and will soon be on our menus.

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