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The coming meat wars – 11 staggering predictions

Bioscience startups pave the way to a new food future


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In November 2015, I was asked to speak on the future of agriculture in Auckland, New Zealand with some of the leading authorities on food innovation. One of the other speakers was Dr. Mark Post, founder of Mosa Meats in Maastricht, Netherlands, who created the first lab-grown hamburger.

We had several conversations over two days, but I remember Mark saying his goal was to get the price of his specialty meat down to $100 a pound, a price point that would keep most people from even considering it.

As I listened to him describe the science, I assumed he had overlooked the entrepreneurial factor. A well-staffed innovative team has a way of rewriting the original assumptions that an emerging technology is founded on.

That’s exactly what happened.

Mosa Meat’s team recently announced they have produced lab-grown beef for $11.36 per pound, down from $44 per pound last year.

Even though it is no longer commercially available, within two years it will be cheaper than ranch-grown meat, and that’s where things get very interesting because a number of industrial pivots will kick in, opening the doors to a vast new set of industries.

Brief history of cultured meat

Cultured meat is known by many names but refers to meat grown in cell cultures rather than animals.

In 1931, Winston Churchill said:

"We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium."

With several science fiction stories and academic papers setting the stage, a 1998 U.S. patent was filed by Jon F. Vein laying claim to the “production of tissue engineered meat for human consumption, wherein muscle and fat cells would be grown in an integrated fashion to create food products such as beef, poultry and fish.”

In 2008, PETA offered a $1 million prize to the first company to bring lab-grown chicken to consumers by 2012.

In November 2009, scientists from the Netherlands announced they grew meat in the lab using cells from a live pig.

In 2010, Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s family foundation reached out to Post to support his efforts in developing cultured meat. They also encouraged him to create a press junket where the first cultured hamburger would be tasted, supporting the cost of the research and the event.

By 2012, 30 laboratories around the world were conducting cultured meat research.

In 2013, with a little coaxing from Brin, Post made headline news around the world for producing the world's first lab-grown burger, cooked and eaten at a news conference in London. The burger was cooked by chef Richard McGeown of Couch's Great House Restaurant in Cornwall and tasted by Hanni Ruetzler, a food critic and researcher at the Future Food Studio.

Ruetzler described the experience: “There is really a bite to it, there is quite some flavor with the browning. I know there is no fat in it so I didn't really know how juicy it would be, but there is quite some intense taste; it's close to meat.”

That one event was all it took to signal the dawning of a new era in food, opening the doors to dozens of new startups.

Key players + accelerating timeframes

Today we are seeing signs of a race to produce cultured meats along with several other stem-cell generated animal products. Some of biotech firms include:

Is cultured meat genetically modified?

Standard techniques involved in genetic engineering, such as insertion, deletion, silencing, activation, or mutation of a gene, are not required to produce in-vitro meat. Moreover, in-vitro meat is composed of a tissue or collection of tissues, not an organism. For these reasons it is not a GMO).

Since in-vitro meats are simply cells grown in a controlled, artificial environment, industry experts say that cultured meat more closely resembles hydroponic vegetables, rather than GMO vegetables.

11 ASTONISHING PREDICTIONS

The stage has been set for some truly profound changes as urban agriculture expands in new and interesting ways. As with all of my predictions, the intent is for you to draw your own conclusions.

1.) By 2020, more than 1,000 laboratories will be conducting research on cultured meats.

2.) Beginning in 2020, cultured meat will be available in grocery stores. Globally, this will turn into a “race to be first” – first cultured bison, swordfish, rattlesnake, etc.

3.) By 2025, industrial-grown meats will become the world’s cheapest food stocks. Although it will still be limited by production, industrial grown meats will be delivered fresh daily, to a grocery store or restaurant near you.

4.) By 2030 more than 10 percent of traditional ranchers will go out of business. Traditional ranchers will find themselves at a significant cost disadvantage as cellular agriculture outperforms traditional ranching, eliminating the need for ranch land, slaughterhouses, processing plants and more.

5.) By 2030, more than 50 percent of the general public will give favorable ratings to cultured meats.

6.) By 2030, more than 50 percent of vegetarians will accept cultured meats as an suitable food source. There are many reasons why people are vegetarians – nutritional concerns, parental influence, religious beliefs, animal rights, environmental concerns, unwanted food additives, economics, disease scares, and other health-related issues. Cultured meats will have answers for most of their concerns.

7.) By 2030, thousands of “grow your own cultured meat farms” will spring up around the world. Cellular agriculture will become a new buzzword as a new era of food entrepreneurs launch businesses.

8.) Along with entrepreneurs will come a new era of “super hacker foods.” These will be designed around special processes for combining cultured meats, grains, fruits, and vegetables.

9.) Cultured meats will also be developed using stem cells from exotic animal like penguins, pandas, rhinos and wombats. This will open the door for bizarre specialty food and restaurants specializing in thousands of different kinds of cultured meats.

10.) Over time, we will develop cultured meat from extinct animal species like saber tooth tigers, woolly mammoths, and dodo birds.

11.) While it will be a touchy subject, we will even see cultured meats developed from human stem cells. From a moral standpoint, some may feel this puts us on the same level as Jeffrey Dahmer, and countries may indeed ban cultured meats grown from human cells, they do have the potential to become a viable food source.

Final thoughts

Over the past few days I’ve discussed this topic with several people at the DaVinci Institute, causing many to cringe at the thought of eating “frankenfood.”

There’s an adoption cycle for every emerging technology and cultured meats are no exception. Reduced environmental stress coupled with a cleaner, faster, cheaper and superior food source are all marketing points that will move the needle quickly.

As global incomes increase, meat consumption rates will grow exponentially over the coming years. Demand for meat in Asia is expected to spike by 56 percent over the coming years.

Even some of the large companies in the meat industry are beginning to take notice. It was reported in December that mega processor Tyson had opened a $150 million fund to invest in startups that are preparing for a meatless future.

Will there be cultured meats in your future?

For most people the answer centers around two key questions. How does it taste, and how much does it cost?

With any luck, and a fair amount of additional funding, the startups listed above will pave the way to a disruptive new future, full of exceptional opportunities.

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Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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