New funding pushes lab-grown meat closer to reality

Mosa Meat
Mosa Meat co-founder Mark Post holds a burger made from the company’s cell-regeneration process. Mosa Meat contends that their product tastes just like real meat because it is molecularly the same as livestock meat. (Photo: Mosa Meat)

By Brady Jones
Medill Reports

Netherlands-based Mosa Meat announced Tuesday that it had secured €7.5 million in new funding to support its efforts to produce the world’s first lab-produced commercial meat product, prompting them to predict the culinary revolution could appear on the market by 2021.

The funding, which equates to roughly $8.7 million, came mostly from large European companies M Ventures and Bell Food Group, in addition to several smaller investors. The funding allows Mosa Meat to continue its focus on decreasing production costs and building a pilot production plant, according to a press release by the company.

Mosa Meat raised eyebrows in 2013, with a sizzling announcement that they had successfully developed a real meat product in a laboratory using cells obtained from the muscle tissue of living cows. Chief scientific officer and company co-founder Mark Post introduced the first “cultured hamburger” to the world, celebrating the potential of meeting the demands of a rapidly growing global population without harming the animals and lessening the human impact on the environment.

The process of creating cultured meat requires gathering cells called myosatellite cells which are located in the muscles of the cow. This is accomplished with a biopsy performed while the cow is under anesthesia. These cells are responsible for the reproduction of muscle tissue when the muscle is injured. In a laboratory, the cells are fed nutrients and natural growth factors, which allows the cells to replicate and eventually produce the meat product.

While the exact impact the product will have on the environment is unclear at this point, the benefit for animals that cultured meat offers is particularly appealing to animal rights organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

“We’re delighted by the way the ‘clean meat’ movement has now become a burgeoning industry that will save animals’ lives, prevent untold suffering for animals, safeguard the environment and feed people around the world,” said PETA President Ingrid Newkirk via email. While the technology for obtaining the cells is still developing, Newkirk is optimistic that it will benefit animals by reducing the need to take multiple cell samples and making animal slaughter unnecessary.

“It’s expected that—as with human cell lines—there will be cell lines in perpetuity from cows and other animals that will make it unnecessary to take fresh cells from animals each time,” she said.

Also celebrating the potential of cultured meat is Kenny Torrella, Director of Communications at Mercy For Animals.

“Mercy For Animals fully supports clean meat, as it has the potential to eliminate factory farming and the need for raising and slaughtering animals altogether,” he said. “These cells can be multiplied over and over, so we can produce massive quantities of meat without the need for animal slaughter.”

The final step for lab-grown meat purveyors is to convince a meat-loving public to make the switch. In this development stage, the cost of the meat is excessive – the first burger cost €250,000 to produce. And the current cost to the consumer is estimated to be nine times the price of regular hamburger. Aside from price, public support for cultured meat varies widely based on multiple surveys in Europe and the United States. Statistics provided by Mosa Meat show that as few as 20 percent and as many as 90 percent of those surveyed would be willing to try cultured meat.

Nikki Ettinger, a resident of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood and bartender at Potter’s Chicago Burger Bar, is skeptical that the product will be a success.

“It’s a great idea for muscle regeneration,” she said after learning about cultured meat. “But not for food!”

Ettinger, a self-described “cheeseburger eater,” noted that there was only one veggie burger option on the menu at Potter’s, and she estimated that only 5 percent of customers order it. Does she think customers will want to order the Mosa Meat burger?

“No!” she said.

Would she order the Mosa Meat burger herself?

“No!” she said.

For Mosa Meat, the target release date of 2021 provides ample time to perfect their marketing strategy.

Photo at top: Mosa Meat co-founder Mark Post holds a burger made from the company’s cell-regeneration process. Mosa Meat contends that their product tastes just like real meat because it is molecularly the same as livestock meat. (Mosa Meat)