Meat the Future!
Timothy Olsen heads our Cultured Meat Program. Discover how this culinary innovation could sustain global nutrition.
Cultured meat is set to revolutionize the food industry. In an interview with Timothy Olsen, PhD, our Head of Cultured Meat, we discover what contribution this future food technology could make in addressing humankind’s growing demand for meat and seafood...
Tim, why cultured meat? And what impact could it have on the environment?
The demand for conventional meat and seafood continues to rise around the globe and will continue to do so as we approach 2050 and a population of 10 billion people. Having said that, the harmful impact of the livestock and ocean fishery industries on the environment, animal welfare, land and water consumption, and animal food-born illness continue to highlight today’s unsustainable means for food production. The emerging cultured meat industry is targeting the creation of genuine meat and seafood, without the need to slaughter a single animal! Over time, cultured meat has the potential to use less resources – up to 90% less land and emissions, and about 80% less water when compared to today’s conventional means. As a future food technology, cultured meat is aligned with sustainably producing the global meat and seafood supply for a growing population, without the negative consequences of conventional methods.
Convincing consumers to embrace new technology is always a challenge – especially if there are safety concerns. How can we achieve it for cultured meat?
In simple terms, cultured meat involves manufacturing animal cells in large bioreactor tanks, much like what you would see at a brewery. The whole process takes place in a sterile and regulated environment, which includes extensive safety testing during and after manufacturing. Thanks to this rigorous process there’s no need to worry about pathogens like salmonella or E.coli, which can still be present in the meat we buy today. Safety is the highest priority for cultured meat companies and the regulatory authorities. A recent consumer study performed by the Good Food Institute in 2021 showed that the majority of Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and baby boomers in the U.S. and U.K. were somewhat likely to try cultured meat. This is a very encouraging result, and I hope it continues to improve as cultured meat companies and advocates further educate the public about the product and its manufacturing process.
What are cultured meat’s biggest hurdles and what has your team been working on?
A few of the biggest challenges today are scale and cost. When you look at the cultured meat manufacturing process, a critical input is the cell culture media, or liquid food, for the cells grown in the bioreactor – this accounts for up to 50% of today’s manufacturing process. Leveraging our company’s expertise in cell culture media development and manufacturing, we have focused closely on this topic to provide cost-effective and scalable solutions that meet the quality and performance needs of our partners. Beyond cell culture media, we have been supporting other parts of the value chain, like scaffolds, to enable the development of structured cuts of meat, which are more desirable for consumers and offer higher value differentiated products, compared to a meatball or nugget.
By 2050, global demand for meat and dairy produce will increase by 70%.
Serum-free culture media accounts for over 50% of cultured meat costs. We aim to design animal-origin free media to reduce production costs.
A growing field: By the end of 2019, a total of 55 cultivated meat and seafood start-ups began operations.
Meat is all about taste. Can cultured meat really compete with conventional meat, in terms of flavor and consistency?
Just like in any industry, only a great product will enjoy long-term success. Taste is one of the most important metrics for consumers and cultured meat companies are well aware of this. Food scientists and chefs have worked extensively with companies to develop the organoleptic properties, like taste, smell, and texture, to ensure they a very close to (over even better than) those of conventional meat. I have been lucky enough to try a few cultured meat products and am very impressed so far! After having the chance to try these early products, there is no doubt in my mind that this industry will impact the way we produce and eat meat.
“It takes a village to raise a child.” Does this ring true, when it comes to the collaboration required to develop cultured meat products?
Absolutely. Many elements are involved in making cultured meat a success—science, consumers, marketing, regulatory, policy, advocacy, manufacturing, supply chain, and more. Our company believes in strong collaborations and has been actively working with partners in industry, academia, government affairs, and beyond to help develop the enabling technologies and solutions required to mass market cultured meat products.
What role did curiosity play in you getting involved with cultured meat at our company?
In 2012, while working on my PhD, I submitted a research grant to the USDA with my advisor on using material science and tissue engineering to make cultured meat. We didn’t receive the grant (we were perhaps a bit early), but it laid the foundation for my curiosity about future food technologies. I carried on with vascular tissue engineering, sometimes involving going to the slaughterhouse to collect tissues for research. I love animals of all shapes and sizes, so this left a lasting impression on me. After university, I moved on to industry startups – working on 3D bioprinting and human stem cell manufacturing. The years passed, and the first cultured meat and seafood companies were founded. Always curious, I kept track of their progress and as it turns out, many of the technical skills I had developed (e.g., tissue engineering, media formulation, and scaling manufacturing) are critical for today’s cultured meat industry. I saw that our company was developing thought leadership in cultured meat and it was an excellent opportunity to work on a high-impact topic. What a wonderful experience it has been!
Cultured meat has the potential to change the world for the better. How does it feel to be at the forefront of such a revolutionary field?
I enjoy working on high-impact technologies that can change the lives of billions – water, health, energy, longevity, and food. Cultured meat provides a path to sustainably produce meat and seafood for the next billion people as we approach a population of 10 billion by 2050 – while helping to positively impact climate, animal welfare, and our oceans. Our company sees cultured meat as one approach to feed the world sustainably and actively supports plant-based food production, sustainable farming, and other initiatives that use science as a force for good. I’ve learned a lot from our library of regulatory resources and application notes – something our customers rely on to create safe and correctly labeled plant-based or alternative protein products. Pesticide, Mycotoxin, PFAS, and other chemical testing solutions/methods are designed for each step of the testing workflow. The work is so rewarding and being surrounded by passionate team members at our company, trailblazing industry colleagues, and curious consumers makes the journey even better.
Future Talk PodcastListen now!
Tune in as experts Dario Kolenko and Dr. Simon Kahan explore the sustainable benefits of cultured meat…
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