Cost is the biggest barrier to cultured meat production

Cultured meat advocates say it is healthier and more sustainable than traditional animal proteins. However, the cost of the growth medium – a necessary component of production – remains one of the largest barriers to bringing meat grown in a lab to consumers.

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Alex011973 | iStockPhoto.com
Alex011973 | iStockPhoto.com

Cultured meat advocates say it is healthier and more sustainable than traditional animal proteins. However, the cost of the growth medium – a necessary component of production – remains one of the largest barriers to bringing meat grown in a lab to consumers.

How cultured meat is manufactured

Cultured meat is made using cells from animals that are grown in in a laboratory. The process involves the use of a growth medium to stimulate cell growth. This step is very costly, limiting the amount of cultured meat that is produced and making the product too expensive for average consumers. The first burger made of cultured animal cells cost more than $280,000.

Growth medium can cost $400 a liter. One kilogram of cultured meat can require up to 600 liters of growth medium, so costs can add up quickly.

“One of the biggest barriers for cultivated meat right now is the high costs of growth medium. A lot of the mediums being used right now are pharmaceutical grade, which are expensive,” said Patrick Suthers, a post-doctoral scholar in chemical engineering at Pennsylvania State University.

An alternative

Suthers recently proposed an alternative method that could help food scientists design processes and growth media at a lower cost than the methods currently in use.

The method, genome-scale metabolic modeling, uses computers to determine how genes produce proteins in a specific organism, for example, chickens. This data can then be used to determine the best nutrient fit for the cells, helping the researchers find the most cost-efficient growth medium that still meets the metabolic needs of the growing cells.   

The research was recently published in the Journal of American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

Other barriers to acceptance

Consumer acceptance also depends how cultured meat is perceived in the market. Cultured meat is perceived by consumers as not natural, Suthers says, but there may be better ways to visualize the process.

“There are lots of things that are made in labs. Beer is grown in a very industrial lab setting, but people don’t think of it as that way. Perception could be an issue with cultured meat,” Suthers concluded. “The system is still in its early days, but people should remember that there’s more to meat alternatives than plant-based proteins.”

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