Nothing but cultured meat in supermarkets 20 years from now

We made note of this rather bold statement pronounced by Professor Dr. Mark Post, who achieved worldwide fame in 2013 with “his” cultured beef hamburger. Effective May 2017, Mark will be the Chief Scientific Officer of Mosameat BV. For over 10 years now, the scientist has been working closely with food technology specialist Peter Verstrate. As a former head of R&D “in the meat industry”, Verstrate was involved in the “invention” of cultured meat at an early stage, and is currently Chief Executive Officer of Mosameat.

Should we tell the story about how cultured meat was developed? How the late “Godfather”, Willem van Eelen, initiated a research consortium on cultured meat over ten years ago at the ripe old age of 80? Or how the first cultured meat hamburger actually ultimately came about thanks to financing from Sergey Brin (ultra-wealthy co-founder of Google, idealist and philanthropist)? And whose team was responsible for the story behind the cultured beef hamburger and its potential making the news worldwide? These stories are great, but undoubtedly already well-known. What we really want to know is: what is the current status of the cultured beef hamburger?

The scientist and the businessman describe the current status as follows: “There are two parallel trajectories. We are perfecting the taste, how it feels in your mouth and the juiciness of the product, and we are working on scaling up production. The Mosameat business model focuses on distributing the technology of the process and making it a success.” Peter: “Even if you were only to serve 1/1000th of the global market, you would still be one of the largest companies in the Netherlands. This is impossible to manage, and it would require working on it in parallel with other people. The only way to do this quickly and properly is by distributing the knowledge.” The Mosameat earnings model is therefore not designed to sell as many kilos of cultured meat possible to supermarkets and the catering industry, but to sell the technology to the parties who are willing and able to do this.

“We believe that as a company, we should also be focusing on questions such as ‘Why do people actually eat meat?’ ‘Which product is ultimately capable of satisfying the meat needs of 95% of the people?’”

If, in fact, the only kind of meat that will be available in the supermarket 20 years from now will be cultured meat, then that also means that the meat industry - currently worth a staggering annual sales figure of one trillion Euros - will cease to exist. One salient detail in this regard: the traditional meat industry is extremely interested in investing in Mosameat. The environment will benefit by leaps and bounds, and the unnecessary suffering of animals will become a thing of the past. In all likelihood, cultured meat will no longer be called “cultured meat”. In this scenario, consumers would in fact be willing to fully accept cultured meat as an alternative for “real” steak, pork chops, chicken thighs, duck breasts and so on. Studies are already predicting this will happen: if you explain to meat-eaters how cultured meat is produced and the problems it can solve, then 25 to 50% of them say that they would be willing to try cultured meat.

Since Mark and Peter’s primary focus is on increasing food security and limiting the environmental impact, they are concentrating on perfecting cultured beef. The standard production of beef is after all, the least efficient kind; to produce one kilo of beef, seven to eight kilos of feed alone is required. The situation is different for their mostly vegetarian and vegan colleagues in America (cultured pork) and Israel (cultured chicken). Their primary motivator is to prevent animal cruelty. On the basis of their idealism, the companies worked together to a certain degree - also because many investors had goals more noble than merely earning money - but the more the commercial opportunities appear on their radar, the more these ideas of partnering and sharing knowledge can tend to run into snags.

Mosameat BV was founded in May 2016. There are no employees on the payroll and “the coffers” are still empty for the time being. However, according to Peter, this is merely a matter of time: “These types of processes take time. There is a lot of interest, from a variety of sources. Mosameat will not become a huge employer. The idea is that once we arrange financing, Mark and I will be connected to the company somehow. We will outsource the lab work as contract research, and look for all the ‘staff stuff’ in the Brightlands periphery.”

Some fellow scientists feel that using medical technology for making something as commonplace as hamburgers is demeaning to their profession. However, Brightlands has embraced the cultured hamburger literally and figuratively as a great figurehead for the Maastricht campus. Mark: “This is logical after all - it’s a great story to communicate to the outside world. Usually the news being reported is that the campus has applied for yet another subsidy, or obtained one. In our case, this is clearly a different story. Potential investors entering and leaving the Brightlands Maastricht Health Campus where Mosameat has its office.”

Mark: “Our original idea was to make a sausage from cells extracted from a pig. We wanted to hold a press conference, and hoped that the local television station, L1, would cover it. Our plan was to present the sausage while the pig in question just walked around on stage. However, investor Sergey Brin’s team was relentless: it had to be a hamburger, and instead of a local press conference, it had to be an international one.”