World's first lab-grown-meat factory opens in Israel
From Singapore to the International Space Station, we're starting to see how cultured, or lab-grown, meat might soon make its way out of the lab and into everyday diets, and a newly opened factory in Israel should do plenty to help things along. Billed as the world's first industrial production facility for cultured meat, local company Future Meat Technologies sees it as a key stepping stone in efforts to scale up its operations.
The technology behind lab-grown meat has come along in leaps and bounds in recent times, progressing from early "soggy forms of pork" produced around a decade ago, to complex, thick-cut rib-eye steaks in 2021. Most follow one of two methodologies, either using plant products as their starting point, like the beef and pork offered by startup Impossible Foods, or beginning with real cells harvested from live animals.
These cells are nurtured carefully in bioreactors and fed the same nutrients as the living animals, enabling the cells to grow and multiply until they develop into edible cuts of meat. The many startups racing to commercialize this technology all vary slightly in their approaches, but all hope to provide a solution to the environmental and ethical issues that cloud modern meat production.
Future Meat Technologies falls in this latter group, turning animal cells into edible portions using its own proprietary method. This involves no genetic modification and includes what the company calls a "media rejuvenation process," which removes waste products more efficiently and apparently leads to yields 10 times higher than the industry standard. It says its process also generates 80 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, uses 99 percent less land and 96 percent less freshwater than typical meat production.
The company will put this technique to the test on its largest scale yet, cutting the ribbon on its new cultured meat facility in the Israeli city of Rehovot. The factory will have the capacity to produce 500 kg (1,100 lb) of cultured chicken, pork and lamb each day, which is equivalent to around 5,000 burgers, and the company says beef products are on the way. For reference, about 4.7 lb (2.1 kg) of meat is harvested from each chicken in the US, so the facility's daily output is equal to around 250 chickens.
The first lab-grown burgers cost more than US$300,000 apiece to produce back in 2013. Bit by bit, however, we're seeing progress in driving these costs down to the point where mainstream outfits like KFC are getting in on the action. Future Meat Technologies says it is the only company to be able to produce cultured chicken breasts for $3.90 a pop and, as it continues to scale up its operations, it expects those costs to fall even further.
"After demonstrating that cultured meat can reach cost parity faster than the market anticipated, this production facility is the real game-changer," says Yaakov Nahmias, founder and chief scientific officer of Future Meat Technologies. "This facility demonstrates our proprietary media rejuvenation technology in scale, allowing us to reach production densities 10-times higher than the industrial standard. Our goal is to make cultured meat affordable for everyone, while ensuring we produce delicious food that is both healthy and sustainable, helping to secure the future of coming generations."