Cultured beef burger to appear on menus soon

january 26, 2020

The cultured beef burger is almost here. Mosa Meat has found two new major investors in Nutreco and Lowercarbon Capital who will contribute to the further development of the company at the Brightlands Maastricht Health Campus in Maastricht. A new laboratory will be built by the end of this year, followed by a small-scale pilot plant. The first cultured beef burgers are expected to be served in a limited number of exclusive restaurants by 2021 or 2022.

With all these developments, does it mean it won’t be long before we start seeing Mosa Meat burgers at McDonald’s and in supermarkets? Peter Verstrate, Chief Operating Officer of Mosa Meat, smiles. Even though he gets asked this question every day, he can’t give a definitive answer yet. “Under Mark Post's leadership we have proven that it’s possible to grow a hamburger with just a few cells from a cow. This is naturally major news, but it was just a start. We expect to be able to grow meat fibers in the lab this year that meet the authorities’ strict safety requirements. After this, we want to start production on a very small scale and only then, if everything goes the way we want it to, will large-scale production come into the picture. If I had to commit to a specific year, I would say the product would be in supermarkets no sooner than five to seven years from now,” Peter Verstrate says, tempering expectations. “The first market introduction, in a few restaurants, for example, will be much sooner however.”

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COO Peter Verstrate

CO2 emissions

Mark Post and his team made worldwide news in 2013 with the presentation of the first cultured beef burger in London. This laboratory-made hamburger was made from only a few animal cells and tasted like “normal” meat. It’s the ultimate solution to the enormous global demand for meat and offers a concrete weapon in the fight against CO2 emissions. “Absolutely,” Peter Verstrate says. “We all eat a total of about 300 billion kilos of meat a year, and this number is expected to rise to 500 billion kilos. Production takes up a huge amount of agricultural land and water resources and the production process does result in the emission of a lot of greenhouse gases.

This was the reason American investor Chris Sacca’s Lowercarbon Capital decided to get involved. It would of course be fantastic to be able to grow meat, for animal welfare reasons among others. You hardly need any animals to do this.”

Issues

Almost seven years on and Mosa Meat, the Maastricht University spin-off that wants to launch the cultured beef burger on the market, can finally start taking the next steps. “It’s not like we have been twiddling our thumbs here in Maastricht. Thanks to financing from two early investors, we are now working with 40 people in teams on various issues at the university and at the Brightlands Maastricht Health Campus. It may seem easy to grow a meat cell, but there are quite a few factors involved. For example, you want to achieve a certain percentage of fat and a natural color. You're looking for the right texture but perhaps the most important question is what do you feed these cells? We have now reached the point where we can offer technical proof that it is possible: a meat burger that satisfies all these criteria without the need to slaughter a cow. We will be submitting the application to the authorities for approval this year. This application involves a strict Novel Food procedure, not as intense as with new medicines, but it comes pretty close. After this, we move on to the next phase. For now, we are focusing mainly on the nutrients for the cells. The idea is to grow them with plant material to minimize the environmental impact. In this sense, it’s very gratifying that Nutreco has joined in; this is a company with a lot of knowledge in the field of nutrients.”

Evidence

Mark Post and his colleagues are optimistic. In anticipation of approval, construction has begun on a new and larger laboratory, and a pilot plant will be built in Maastricht this year. During the course of 2021, the first hamburgers for consumption are expected to be able to be produced there. 

Mark Post 3.JPG

“It’s important to gain experience with production,” Peter Verstrate says, “to prove that it works. I can already imagine some restaurants in the area will want to serve the meat, for example. This obviously raises the big question: is the concept commercially viable? Is it possible to produce a cultured beef burger at competitive prices, and will this have to be done in huge factories? I personally expect the technology to be able to be applied worldwide and that these ‘meat factories’ will eventually be built all over the world. They could eventually also produce other types of meat; after all, the principle and technology are the same. This is something to think about for the future.”

Scientific

Peter Verstrate expects the number of Mosa Meat employees to rise to around 60 this year. This includes researchers, PhD students, tech people and soon also operators. “Brightlands Maastricht Health Campus will remain a good environment for us to continue our growth. It’s a scientific setting with all of the facilities and knowledge we need. It's also fairly easy to find the right people here. Mosa Meat appeals to the imagination, and is a company that can make a contribution to sustainability and a better world.”

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