In this month’s issue of WATT PoultryUSA, we examine the state of the art of cultured meat and the businesses developing or investing in the technology. After speaking with knowledgeable sources and researching the subject, it’s evident to me that the poultry industry shouldn’t be panicking.

There’s no product now

Whatever you want to call it – lab-grown, in vitro, cultured or clean meat – it’s not here yet and it won’t be arriving for some time. Even the most optimistic assessments say a publicly available product shouldn’t debut sooner than 2021. Furthermore, it will be some time, maybe 10, 20 or 30 years, before a product sold at a competitive price is released. Even then, it’s uncertain whether it will truly be a “meat” product or rather a mixture of cultured meat and plant-based protein that’s called a meat product.

In this issue, you’ll see that the technology to make meat with minimal animal involvement does already exist. There is plenty of excitement around the field and investment flowing into the technology – with some coming from industry titans Tyson Foods Inc. and Cargill Inc., no less – but it’s important to keep expectations grounded. For now, it’s prohibitively expensive to produce and far more money and research is needed to clear that obstacle and many others.

A partnership opportunity?

There’s plenty of argument for the technology that is off-putting to us in the industry, but there is a compelling contention, too. The world’s population and per capita income will continue to grow, which means more people will want to eat meat. The global meat industry will be challenged to feed an estimated global population of about 10 billion by 2050. Ideology aside, cultured meat or other alternative proteins could be a viable way to help fill that appetite.

Tyson, and the alternative protein companies they are backing, certainly see cultured meat as a supplement rather than a replacement. It can’t put the meat industry out of business now and most likely won’t pose a real threat for a very, very long time. But, it is nevertheless a promising development that can help feed the world.