Cellular agriculture advances mean ‘clean meat’ could be commercially available in less than 10 years

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The idea of eating a burger grown in a lab rather than from a cow raised on a farm and slaughtered for its meat may sound like something out of a science fiction story set far in the future, but in reality the commercialization of so-called “clean meat” could be as little as four or five years away. 

In a recently released report for the White House, the National Academy of Sciences flagged clean meat and other products developed from cellular agriculture as an area of high growth potential for the next 10 years, and recommended that the government start revamping and developing oversight regulations now so that when clean meat is ready to hit the market it can done so as quickly and seamlessly as possible. 

“There are two things that are particularly exciting about the report,” Bruce Friedrich, executive director of the Good Food Institute, told FoodNavigator-USA at an event it was hosting on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

He said the first is that more than 25 experts at the National Academy of Sciences believe that clean meat developed from cellular agriculture will be commercialized within 10 years and those who are closest to the topic say it will be price competitive with conventional meat.

Refining the regulations

The second element that The Good Food Institute found encouraging in the report is the recommendation that regulators create a “single point of entry” for the approval process of these products – an issue at which the non-profit is taking a close look.

Friedrich explained that currently the regulatory oversight scheme for clean meat is “pretty unclear” given the current statute for meat production assumes the product comes from animals.

“There are regulations this thick for meat inspection at the moment, but it is all talking about slaughter regulations and cleanliness regulations having to do with bringing animals from factory farms and slaughtering them,” which is very different than clean meat created in meat breweries, he said.

“We have been doing a deep dive into what the regulation should like in the United States and internationally, and right now it looks to us like there should probably be a degree of joint oversight” with USDA handling everything related to meat processing and FDA establishing good manufacturing practices, Friedrich said.

“The most important is we need to start working with FDA and USDA now … to make sure that once it is ready for market, the regulatory pathway is clear and smooth and as the scientists say, there is one point of entry, not a bunch of different points of entry and people sort of fighting over it,” he said.

While the report suggests regulators have about 10 years to finalize a more appropriate oversight scheme, Bruce believes they may actually have only half that time.

“There are probably four companies and dozens of people in universities at tissue engineering departments who are looking at bringing clean meat to commercialization as quickly as possible,” he said.

In particular, he noted Memphis Meats is a for profit company that is the farthest along in production, and its founder expects to have products on the market in the next four to five years. As the company scales, those products should be the same price as conventional meat within the decade, he added.

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