Is lab-grown 'man-made' meat the real thing?

04 April 2018

A global demand for protein, an innovative food industry and consumers who demand sustainable, ethical meals are behind the rise of one of the latest culinary trends: meat grown in a lab.

Meat that isn’t really meat is not new – plant-based alternatives to ground beef such as Quorn mince (made from edible fungus) have been around for years.

Now there is a new alternative which promises to deliver the holy grail of meatless meat by replicating the sensory experience of beef.

Laboratory-based or in vitro meat is a cultured product created from cellular material.

Cellular agriculture is not just making headlines for the novelty factor, it has potential to be another competitor for red meat so MLA is keeping a close eye on its evolution.

MLA Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Lisa Sharp said while it is early days, lab-grown meat could take some market share from traditional production systems.

“While plant-based products boast vegan/vegetarian attributes, lab-grown meat is a different proposition – it is meat, but produced in a different way,” she said.

“It asks consumers to accept not a substitute, but an artificial replication.”

Lab-grown meat is tipped to win consumer favour as it responds to two global mega trends:

  • Health and wellbeing: lab-based meat promises to provide good nutrients without the ‘nasties’, as it is created in a sterile environment and ingredients can be manipulated to improve human health aspects.
  • Ethics and sustainability: Consumers want ethical treatment of workers, humane treatment of animals and sustainable stewardship of natural resources. Synthetically-produced meat can meet these demands.

The good news for Australian red meat producers is that they can also deliver to meet consumer-driven trends.

“The Australian industry is committed to continuous improvement of the health and welfare of our animals and care of the environment and we need to promote the integrity of our practices to consumers,” Lisa said.

“Consumers are already voicing concerns about eating synthetic ‘Frankenfoods’ – they want natural, unadulterated food which farmed red meat can provide.”

After price and nutrition, the top attributes consumers look for when buying meat are:

  1. Quality grading or guarantee
  2. Safety certification
  3. All natural/100% natural.

Red meat also provides many nutritional benefits. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend 130g of cooked red meat every second day as a practical way to meet iron and zinc requirements.

High profile investors such as Richard Branson are taking a stake in lab-based meat but that doesn’t mean it will be appearing on a menu near you anytime soon, at least not under Australia’s strict food protocols.

However, in the US, dishes like the Impossible Burger (a vegan burger which looks like a juicy beef patty) are paving the way for public acceptance of synthetic foods.

MLA is monitoring the roll out of lab meat in the US to gauge consumer reactions and understand whether it stands to be an addition to, or a substitute for, consumption of farmed red meat.

US studies show that consumers are willing to try lab-based meat but not keen to replace farmed meat with synthetic alternatives.

For now, price is a barrier; in the US, ground beef costs $3.52/pound ($7/kg) compared to $2,400/pound ($5,291/kg) for lab-grown meat, but this is tipped to come down with private investment and increased demand.

"Taste is another barrier, as naturally produced red meat still boasts an eating experience which lab-based products can’t yet deliver," Lisa said.

Know the facts:

  • Red meat has always had competition, lab-grown meat is another protein alternative.
  • Global demand for protein is a growing market for all proteins, including farm based meat
  • Australian producers can counteract claims from the lab-grown meat industry by continuing to produce quality red meat backed up by:
    • world-leading animal health and welfare practices and production integrity systems, such as LPA
    • environmental sustainability of production systems
    • human health and wellbeing benefits of naturally produced red meat e.g. iron, protein and zinc taste and enjoyment attributes, demonstrated through MSA.
  • 31.1% of consumers are willing to try laboratory-based meat but of these, only 7.2% are willing to consider replacing farmed meat.
  • In the US 37% of millennials plan to buy more vegetarian/plant-based food products in the next year.

 Sources:

  • US Bureau of Labor Statistics Dec 2017
  • Forbes January 2018
  • MLA Global Consumer Tracker 2017
  • Wilks M, Phillips CJC (2017) Attitudes to in vitro meat: A survey of potential consumers in the United States
  • Mintel’s Global Food & Drink Trends 2018

Information:

Lisa Sharp
Email Lisa

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