a cultivated meat chicken burger
November 5, 2022
November 5, 2022

Cultivated Meat: An Explainer

by

Nathan Snackwell

A decade ago, the notion that real meat could be grown in a lab and mass produced was widely shrugged off. Our own president and founder Prof. Yaakov ("Koby") Nahmias often recalls his initial dismissal of cultivated meat, which he once believed was too expensive to ever scale. "I thought it was the stupidest idea I've ever heard in my life," he says, noting early obstacles to bringing down the once astronomical cost of cultivating meat. 

Fast forward to 2022, and not only is Koby at the helm of our company, but the broader cultivated meat market is projected to become a $20 billion global industry by 2030, according to some estimates. It is already on menus in Singapore and on track to reach US consumers in 2023 when Believer Meats begins production at our soon-to-be unveiled facility.

What is Cultivated Meat?

So, what is cultivated meat exactly? As a brand new product category for most consumers, this is a question we, understandably, often get. And we're always happy to answer it. 

First, we like to begin by clarifying what it is not. Cultivated meat (also known as cultured meat, lab-grown meat, or in-vitro meat) is not a veggie burger. It is not a plant-based meat alternative or substitute. It is real meat, produced by combining animal cells with a plant-based structure that altogether delivers the structure, texture and full satisfying sensory experience of conventionally-farmed meat — all without raising, harming, or slaughtering animals.

a chicken

The Process: How is Lab-Grown Meat Made?

In the race to develop and scale the technology behind cultivated meat, different companies have taken different approaches. The lab-grown meat process typically begins by growing and replicating biopsied stem cells in a petri dish. At Believer, we use fibroblast cells instead, because they are more stable and replicate much more quickly, without genetic modification, allowing us to make more meat, faster, at a lower cost than our competitors. All of this enables us to scale up and eventually reach more consumers faster than we would have been able to had we settled on using stem cells.

Since most cells have a finite lifespan and won't continue to divide and replicate forever, cultured meat companies have to figure out a way to keep the supply of cells coming. One way to do that is to continue to extract cells from living animals, over and over again, which we wanted to avoid. Another is to genetically modify animal cells so that they continue to reproduce indefinitely. Most cultivated meat producers take this route, but Believer Meats achieves the same result — lines of ever-replicating animal cells — using a non-GMO process called "spontaneous immortalization." This process involves identifying rare fibroblast cells in a given sample that go through what is known as a spontaneous immortalization event. 

After isolating these naturally immortal cells, we can then create fully immortal cell lines by letting them replicate in a nutrient-rich mixture that mimics the nutrient profile cells would find inside a living animal. At Believer, we allow these cells to replicate, first in small samples and eventually in larger volumes within bioreactors (think: big fermentation tanks used to make beer) where they grow into a dense biomass — the key ingredient in cultivated meat. 

When the biomass reaches optimal density and volume, we remove it from the bioreactor, separate it from the nutrient-rich medium in which it grew, and then fortify it with plant protein and combine it with other ingredients to give it the shape, feel, texture and taste of conventionally-farmed meat.

No Ethical Baggage: Why Lab-Grown Meat is Good for the Planet

The entire lab-grown meat process can be done in a single facility with a significantly smaller footprint than the complex network of farms, slaughterhouses, and processing plants required to produce conventionally-farmed meat. For that reason, our emerging industry is now widely seen as an important solution to the climate crisis and a sustainable, cruelty-free way to feed our globe’s growing demand for meat. 

Because cultured meat companies produce meat entirely in a controlled lab environment, it is also not vulnerable to many of the food safety risks associated with conventionally-farmed meat. Since the process of making lab-grown meat doesn't involve the slaughter of living animals, which might carry pathogens harmful to humans, there is no risk of passing animal-borne diseases to consumers.

To maximize these benefits, we are working hard to make our products widely affordable and accessible to as many people as possible. Everything about our process — from the types of cells we source, to the way we immortalize them — is designed to lower costs to consumers. We don't aspire to make specialty products affordable to the few, but high-quality meat any diner or shopper can choose.

When Will Lab-Grown Meat Be Available?

At the moment, cultivated meat is only available to consumers in Singapore, but cultured meat companies are working for approval to bring their products to market around the world. For our part, we've been working closely with regulators in the U.S. and beyond to receive the approvals needed to bring our food to people's plates. Once this happens, we will flip the switch on our first U.S. facility, currently under construction in North Carolina, and bring Believer Meats to  people in the U.S. and beyond.

Of course the success of the entire industry hinges on cultivated meat passing the taste test, which is why we obsess at Believer about ensuring our products offer the same nutritional value and sensory experience people crave—from the way our meat browns and sizzles on hot pan, to the sensory experience it delivers on that first delicious and guilt-free bite.

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