Fischer was speaking to us after Hampton Creek founder Josh Tetrick posted an article on linkedin explaining that producing 'clean' or 'cultured' meat (by culturing cells without raising or slaughtering animals) and plant-based meat/eggs, both stemmed from a desire to find kinder and more sustainable alternatives to industrial animal farming.
His comments came as Dr Eric Schulze, senior scientist at Memphis Meats – probably the best-known clean meat company – told delegates at the IFT show this week that his company aims to launch premium-priced clean meat products in high-end restaurants in 2019, and more mass market products in grocery stores in 2021.
We have been working on this for over a year
Poultry will likely be first to market in late 2018, Fischer told us: “We believe the first product released commercially will likely be in the avian family.”
Longer term, however, the plan is to build a “multi-species, multi-product platform spanning the entire range of meat and seafood,” he said.
“We haven't solved the meat and seafood problem until we are able to make all of these products.”
Asked how long Hampton Creek had been working on the technology, and what kinds of scientists were working on the project, he said: “We have been working on this for over a year. Many members of our 59-person R&D team are involved, between our molecular team, our analytical chemistry team, our process team, and our product development team.
“We also supplemented the significant in-house expertise we had previously with additional, more specific specialists such as scientists with stem cell biology, medicine, and tissue engineering backgrounds.”
"We believe that clean meat can be evaluated and regulated within existing regulatory frameworks... Clean meat is a food, not a drug, not a new animal drug or a food additive..." [read more on this at FoodNavigator-USA next week..]
Rebecca Cross, counsel, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
“We think it’s unlikely that families in Alabama (or anywhere in the world) will consistently choose plant-based alternatives over chicken, beef, pork, and seafood… Over the past year, we’ve started the early work of expanding our platform to solve the technical challenges of scalable clean meat.
With plants providing nutrients for animal cells to grow, we believe we can produce meat and seafood that is over 10x more efficient than the world’s highest volume slaughterhouse.
Imagine choosing between a similarly priced pound of clean high-grade bluefin tuna belly or conventional tilapia from underwater traps. Or clean A5 Kobe beef versus conventional sirloin (corn-fed and confined). Our approach will be transparent and unquestionably safe, free of antibiotics and have a much lower risk of foodborne illness. The right choice will be obvious.
We’ve started the process of licensing our discoveries to the world’s largest food manufacturers and, in the years ahead, we’ll do the same with the world’s largest meat and seafood companies.”
Josh Tetrick, founder and CEO, Hampton Creek
The production process
Fischer would not say what kind of stem cells the company is using, or whether the plan is to first proliferate cells in a stir tank bioreactor and then transfer them to a larger perfusion type bioreactor where they will mature and differentiate in to the different cell types (fat, muscle, connective tissue).
However, he confirmed that, “We are building a platform that enables us to produce cells of different types including muscle, fat, and others, in a bioreactor-based process.”
As for the go-to-market strategy, he said: “We are exploring various options for the initial release but are most focused on how to get the costs down to parity or below current meat prices. We haven't truly solved the meat and seafood problem until we've done so.”
The company has not said what it is using as a growth medium (the nutrient-rich bath the cells need to grow) but said its expertise in plant-based products had enabled it to develop a viable vegan alternative to animal serum.
"The entry of a billion-dollar company into the clean meat market sector is a vote of confidence in the technology, and we hope that Hampton Creek will be the first of many major food companies to dive into this incredibly promising field."
Bruce Friedrich, executive director, The Good Food Institute
The path to commercialization for clean meat
In a mapping document penned by the Good Food Institute earlier this month, the authors predicted that clean meat would likely come to market in phases, with the first products perhaps hybrids combining clean meat and plant-based meat; followed by ground meat products (nuggets, burgers); and finally those mimicking steaks or chicken breasts, which present significantly greater technical challenges.
“The first products that come to market may be hybrid products wherein clean meat is included as a part of plant-based products that essentially require only cell lines, media, and proliferative bioreactors to come to fruition.”
They add: “The next commercial products will likely be ground meat mimics, where scaffolding can be minimal; more complex structures requiring vascularization or perfusion bioreactors are not necessarily required.
“Finally, more structured tissues – like those mimicking steaks or chicken breasts – will require research and development in all of the areas outlined above. Thus, a consideration of target product(s) should drive the R&D focus.”
Speaking at a webinar hosted by the GFI on June 8, Dr Specht added: "I think there's a lot of evidence to suggest that consumers would be interested in hybrid products," citing the success of products already on the market that feature combinations of regular meat and plant-based ingredients, such as mushroom blend burgers and sausages with 40% meat, which are marketing on a health and sustainability platform, and can also be more affordable.
"The phrase 'clean meat' is similar to 'clean energy' in that it immediately communicates important aspects of the technology—both the environmental benefits and the decrease in food-borne pathogens and drug residues."
Bruce Friedrich, executive director, The Good Food Institute
How do you make clean meat at scale?
Clean meat production begins with obtaining cell lines for the desired animal species (eg. chicken, pork, beef) that behave in a predictable way through many generations, while maintaining an unlimited capacity to reproduce/divide (ie. ‘immortalized’ cell lines).
Next you have to proliferate cells, perhaps in a stir tank bioreactor where you might suspend your cells in the growth medium (both Hampton Creek and Memphis Meats claim to have found viable alternatives to animal serum – read more about that HERE) and stir them and keep them warm.
As for the next stage, where you want to encourage the creation of an organized pattern of muscle, fat, and connective tissue cells, this would “probably require seeding onto scaffolding and then differentiating into the various cell types, the stage at which you get real fat cells forming and the muscle cells forming into fibers to give that authentic meaty texture,” said Dr Specht.
Here, the scaffolding would need to be something that is subsumed within the final meat product – so it would have to be made out of something that is degradable over time, or something edible that would not impact the taste or safety of the final product such as cellulose or collagen, she said.
“To accommodate three-dimensional growth, the scaffolds must exhibit porosity for perfusing nutrient media [the nutrients have to be able to reach the cells],” she added. “Alternatively, they must support vascularization of the tissue itself, i.e., the formation of a network of vessels to allow nutrients to permeate the tissue. Several production methods, including 3D printing and spun-fiber platforms, allow fine-tuning of pore size and microstructures within the scaffold.
"Once you get to the scaffold stage, that area is less explored and has not yet been demonstrated at scale."
Interested in clean meat?
GFI senior scientist Dr Liz Specht will give delegates at FOOD VISION USA 2017 the lowdown on clean meat, while Alex Lorestani will explain how Geltor is producing gelatin without animals. See the latest speaker list HERE.