The Good Food Institute teamed up with experts in clean meat and cellular agriculture from New Harvest, the Cellular Agriculture Society, Hampton Creek, Finless Foods, and Shojinmeat to answer Redditors’ burning questions on food innovation.
You can check out the full session here, but we've gathered a few of our favorite Q&A pairs here for your quick-viewing pleasure!
Ending Factory Farming: It’s Only Natural
What are some of the ethical backlashes you've seen from people who say it's "not natural"?
GFI's Dr. Liz Specht answers:
I think many consumers are unaware of how unnatural conventional meat production is these days. Despite the number of consumers who claim in polls that they want to eat grass-fed or free-range or local meat, the fact is that these categories of meat production account for just a fraction of a percent of all meat sales in the U.S.
Conventionally produced farmed chickens now grow 6–7 times as quickly as they would naturally, cows give more than 10 times their normal milk output, turkeys are so top-heavy they cannot even breed naturally, and almost all meat is the product of artificial insemination. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the unnatrualness of conventional meat. By contrast, clean meat simply entails feeling cells nutrients and having them multiply and divide – which is what cells naturally do! – in a clean, controlled system.
Do GFI-ers Even Like Food?
Have any of you actually eaten and appreciated delicious food, or are you basically the kind of people who are interested in creating more complex versions of soylent because as far as you're concerned, the purpose of food is to sustain life?
Yes, I love food! :) I think the culinary potential of cellular agriculture is one of its most compelling arguments for folks who aren't as motivated by environmental or ethical concerns.
The reason we eat the types of meat, milk, and eggs that we do is not because humans went on an exhaustive search thousands of years ago for the best species for each of those products. It's because of historical happenstance.
The ancestors of pigs, cows, chickens, etc. just so happened to live in close proximity to our human ancestors and be relatively amenable to taming and domestication.
With cellular agriculture, we are now no longer at the mercy of that historical fluke – we can now explore all types of new food products. From a culinary perspective, I think this is a fascinating and exciting development.
Let’s Talk Money
We've got a multi-response blurb coming at you. Prepare yourself!
What are the biggest limits to making cellular agriculture affordable?
New Harvest research fellow Jess Kregier answers:
One of the biggest limitations right now is reducing the cost of the culture media, which is food for the cells. It keeps them growing, happy, and healthy. One of the main (and most expensive) components of media is serum, and a replacement must be developed. Once major headway is made reducing the cost of media, the price of cultured meat will drop considerably!
LMKIfYouHeardItB4 follows up:
Are we talking a "curing cancer" style breakthrough in eliminating serum? In other words, something that may happen soon or may not happen for the next 20 years?
Fortunately, nope! We've already got hundreds of commercially available serum-free formulations (see this database: https://fcs-free.org/). As Jess points out, the cost is the main issue at the moment because of these serum-free media suppliers are catering to industries like R&D and clinical use, where there is MUCH higher price tolerance.
It is relatively trivial to reduce the cost of the culture media once it is produced at larger scale, as the highest cost components are the growth factors, which are simply recombinant proteins. Recombinant proteins are made at huge scale for applications in food processing, paper milling, etc. at orders of magnitude lower than the current cost of recombinant growth factors. There is no reason that the cost of growth factors produced through this method wouldn't drop to the same price points of these other industrial-scale proteins.
Want to learn more? Read up on the four critical technologies involved in creating clean meat here!