For a technology that was largely unheard of a decade ago, cultured meat has taken off quickly in recent years. Not only are there many different types of meat being grown from animal cells (like ground beef, chicken, salmon, and bacon, to name a few), but facilities to manufacture the products at scale have opened or are under construction in Israel, the US, and Singapore. Now another real-meat product that’s made without harming animals will soon be available to carnivores: cultured pork sausages.
Meatable unveiled the sausages last week, and they’re the Dutch company’s very first product. They’re made using what Meatable calls ‘opti-ox™ technology’; though the company’s press release is light on details of how it works, they mention there’s no fetal bovine serum involved.
It’s likely their proprietary method mirrors the typical way cultured meat is produced: the process starts with harvesting muscle cells from an animal, then feeding those cells a mixture of nutrients and naturally-occurring growth factors so that they multiply, differentiate, then grow to form muscle tissue in much the same way muscle grows in animals’ bodies.
The bioreactors this process takes place in don’t pop out ready-to-eat pork sausages, though—growing the meat cells is only half the work. The harvested cells need to be refined and shaped into a final product, which could involve extrusion cooking, molding, and even 3D printing. This may sound dubious to some consumers, but for what it’s worth, most cultured meat products have nutritional profiles identical to those of their conventionally-raised counterparts.
Perhaps most significantly, Meatable says it only takes a few weeks to take its product from cell growth initiation to ready-to-eat sausages. That’s a far cry from raising a live pig.
Also, here’s a fun fact—according to Meatable’s press release, Germany alone consumers 27 percent of the world’s total volume of sausages. We knew they liked their bratwurst, but wow. It’s a good thing the Netherlands and Germany share a border so that logistics will be easy with Meatable’s biggest potential customers.
That said, it’ll be a while before any commerce involving cultivated meat starts taking place in Europe. In fact, Singapore is the only country in the world where sale of the meat is currently legal. Meatable says it’s been working with regulators on a motion to allow tasting of cultivated meat in the Netherlands by the end of this year, and is hoping to sell its products directly to consumers by 2025.
In addition to the types of cultured meat on offer and the expansion of production facilities for them, the per-unit cost of the products is falling fast. The first-ever lab-grown burger cost $330,000 to make back in 2013. Just last year, though, the cost of lab-grown chicken reached $7.70 per pound (as compared to an average, at the time, of $3.62 per pound for was-once-a-live-animal chicken).
Pricing will be key in bringing cultured meat products to market, likely carrying as much or more weight as consumer perception of the technology. With rising inflation, consumers are more cost-conscious than ever; those who may have been hesitant to buy cultured meat in the past may get the final nudge they need if it ends up costing less than traditional meat. This is a reality that’s still years away, but it’s not implausible.
However long it may take—both in terms of reaching price parity and getting regulatory approval—it’s looking more likely that carnivorous consumers will one day have their pick of tasty, planet-friendly, ‘no-kill’ meat.
Image Credit: Meatable