Not Sci-Fi: Lab Grown Meat Waits Approval

November 5, 2021

I’m really hoping this works.

San Francisco Chronicle:

A huge facility designed to produce hundreds of thousands of pounds of cultured meat opened Thursday in Emeryville — a significant step forward in a nascent yet rapidly growing industry where meat is grown from animal cells without any need for slaughter.

The facility, part of a new, $50 million, 53,000-square-foot campus for Berkeley food tech company Upside Foods, is billed as the first of its kind in the world and ready for commercial scale. While other companies have made cultured meat, also known as cultivated meat or lab-grown meat, they’ve typically worked out of smaller laboratories.

The U.S. government still hasn’t approved the sale of cultivated meat, but Upside Foods Chief Operating Officer Amy Chen said the new facility is proof that the technology is ready.

“It’s not a dream,” said Chen, who left a senior vice president role at PepsiCo to join Upside in June. “It’s not science fiction. It’s reality today.”

Until the meat is legal to sell, the company will be hosting tours and testing products. Once it gains approval, Upside’s plan is to start supplying restaurants, specifically Dominique Crenn’s three-Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. After introducing the meat to the public through chefs, the next move is into grocery stores — similar to the rollout followed by Impossible Foods, the Redwood City maker of the convincingly beefy burgers made from soybeans. Unlike plant-based meats, cultivated meat is actually animal-based, fleshy meat.

Located in a residential neighborhood near the Public Market Emeryville, Upside’s new space looks like a brewery on steroids. It’s capable of producing 50,000 pounds of meat per year, with room to eventually expand to 400,000 pounds.

Huge tanks known as bioreactors line the main room, where cells harvested from live animals will be bathed in nutrients such as glucose, vitamins and amino acids. The bioreactors create an environment similar to an animal’s body, and the nutrients feed the cells until they get bigger, forming an unstructured, ground-meat-like product. An additional, more complicated step involves creating a scaffolding that allows the cells to grow together and form the fibers and texture expected from a whole cut of meat, like a steak or chicken breast.

Advocates say the process not only avoids killing animals but, because it requires less water and land, is a more efficient, climate-friendly way to produce meat. That’s partially because the process is significantly faster, shrinking the three years it takes for a cow to mature to a matter of weeks.

That sales pitch has led to enormous interest in the industry, with Upside drawing more than $200 million in funding, according to Crunchbase. San Francisco cultured-meat competitor Eat Just, which is also known for its plant-based egg substitute Just Egg, has nabbed more than $450 million.

Audrey Gyr, a startup specialist with the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for plant-based and cultivated meat, said Upside’s new facility is a testament to how much the industry has grown over the past few years — and how much it will continue to grow. A 2021 McKinsey & Company report predicts the market for cultivated meat could reach $25 billion by 2030.

“The technology and innovation has advanced considerably to enable them to build this kind of facility and move beyond the lab,” said Gyr, who is not affiliated with Upside.

When Upside Foods, previously known as Memphis Meats, started in 2015, it was the first cultured-meat company in the world. Now, there are at least 80, according to the Good Food Institute.


5 Responses to “Not Sci-Fi: Lab Grown Meat Waits Approval”

  1. Gingerbaker Says:

    Good luck to them, they are going to need it:

    • greenman3610 Says:

      agree. The obstacles are daunting. Still hopeful.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        The initial flat part of the S-curve looks like the initial flat area of the flop curve. 😉

        It’s an interesting speculative bet for vegan and vegetarian investors, though.

  2. Roger Walker Says:

    I’ve been predicting this, and waiting impatiently, for years. Seriously good news, for two reasons:

    It’s happening now already and it is, apparently scalable.

    It’s the perfect example of a phenomenon that’s too often ignored: the RATE of progress is accelerating.

    Too often, we see innovative technology denigrated on the basis of present costs. But as soon as you go big, costs always come down. Look at renewables!

    This is the future. Sure, the marketplace is in for a rough ride, and no one can predict how it will work out. But that’s what makes this initiative so important.

    There cannot be a neatly stitched up, global plan to tackle climate disruption. “What can we do?” has always been the wrong question. There will always be objections on the grounds that such-and-such is ‘impossible’. Ask rather, “What must we do?” – and then figure out a way to make it happen.

  3. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    I’m hoping the processing requirements for the factory (OSHA, FDA, etc.) are not more stringent than for traditional food processing. (As it is, rules made during TFG’s administration further loosened already lax inspections at meat processing facilities.)

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