Meat the Future!
Cultured meat is set to revolutionize the food industry. In an interview with Lavanya Anandan, our Head of Innovation in the field of cultured meat, we discover what contribution this new culinary innovation could make in addressing humankind’s growing demand for meat and seafood…
Lavanya, what’s the motivation behind cultured meat, and what impact might it have on the environment?
The motivation behind cultured meat (i.e. growing animal cells in a bioreactor) is to create various meat varieties – without having to slaughter animals. The production process promises to be less resource intensive than farming animals. Potential impacts include reduction in land use, water use, climate change emissions, and the overall conservation of our habitat.
New technology always raises safety concerns. How safe is cultured meat, compared with traditional meat products?
Cultured meat will be produced in a contained, sterile environment – therefore inherently less prone to contaminations, such as viruses and bacteria. However, as with any large-scale production process, rigorous safety tests will be demanded across the various stages. From safety validation of all the inputs that go into the bioreactor, to determining nutritional content and safety of the final edible product. With stringent regulations in place, there will be safety and quality assurance before it reaches our plates.
In your opinion, what are cultured meat’s biggest hurdles to achieving greater societal acceptance – and how can they be overcome?
The biggest hurdle is fear of the unknown. Research shows that prior familiarity of new food concepts and a willingness to try new foods are predictors of acceptance across geographies. It’s important to engage with consumers early. This means providing information on the process, quality, and taste – as well having open dialogues on potential societal and personal impacts of cultured meat. This should begin now, even before products are released – to build trust and anticipation for future foods.
A small tissue sample is taken from an animal via biopsy
Meat is all about taste. Can cultured substitutes really compete with conventional meat, in terms of flavor and consistency?
Many startups have hosted public tasting events for their prototypes – from cultured-beef meatballs to cultured-shrimp dumplings. Several people in my network that have tasted it (I am yet to!) enjoy both the texture and flavor, but agree that both areas could benefit from further development – e.g. meatier texture or deeper flavor. Bioengineers, food scientists, flavor chemists, and chefs are collaborating and innovating every day to create flavors, aromas, and textures that people will love.
“Too many cooks spoil the broth.” Does this ring true, when it comes to the collaboration required to develop cultured meat products?
Quite the opposite! I believe collaboration can dramatically accelerate the field. Academic and industry leaders, from a wide range of disciplines, need to come together and jointly develop novel solutions to help drive this promising field from idea to commercialization. Academic labs (for example), with expertise in tissue engineering and biomanufacturing could address scientific challenges. Similarly, industry partners with experience in facilities construction and food production could help tackle upscaling challenges.
A key aspect of curiosity is a willingness to embrace new and uncertain situations. Has your research ever required you to leave your comfort zone?
I feel extremely lucky to work with a team of passionate, creative, boundary-breaking innovators and scientists. Cultured meat is a nascent field with many unknowns. We embrace this complexity and ambiguity every day and rely on our collective brain power to take fearless, yet structured, leaps into the unknown.
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?
Excitement and a strong sense of responsibility. As a molecular biologist and foodie, working on cultured meat has really been a dream come true. At the same time, we have a responsibility to our customers, and eventually consumers, to create technologies and products that are designed with a commitment to food safety.