This past December, Israeli cultured meat company Believer Meats started construction on what it says will be the biggest cultured meat factory in the world. Its 200,000-square-foot facility is being built near Raleigh, North Carolina. Cultured meat’s viability has been called into question recently, but that doesn’t seem to be slowing the industry down too much. A Brazilian meatpacking company called JBS announced last week that its subsidiary BioTech Foods is building a commercial-scale cultured meat plant in Spain.
Cultured meat starts with the extraction of cells from an animal’s tissue, be it a pig, cow, chicken, fish, or any other animal we consume. The cell extraction doesn’t kill or even harm the animal. The cells are mixed with a cocktail of nutrients, oxygen, and moisture inside large bioreactors. Mimicking the environment inside an animal’s body, the bioreactors are kept at a warm temperature, and the cells inside divide, multiply, and mature. Waste products are regularly removed to keep the environment pure.
Once the cells have reached maturity—that is, grown into small chunks of muscle-like material—they’re harvested from the bioreactors to be refined and shaped into a final product. This can involve anything from extrusion cooking and molding to 3D printing and adding in artificial fat.
JBS says the factory it’s building in Spain will be able to produce more than 1,000 metric tons of cultivated beef per year, and could expand capacity to 4,000 metric tons per year in the medium term. That’s smaller than Believer Meats’ facility in the US, which will have an annual production capacity of 10,000 metric tons. But what’s noteworthy about the JBS factory is that it’s focused on producing beef.
Thus far, chicken seems to be leading the cultured meat industry. It’s already being sold in Singapore and Israel, and has received preliminary FDA approval for sale in the US.
BioTech Foods is a Spanish company, but Brazilian JBS acquired a 51 percent stake in 2021 for $100 million. They’ll spend $41 million of that to build the cultured beef plant, which will be located in the northern coastal city of San Sebastian.
“This market is expected to experience tremendous growth in the next decade, with sources indicating that by 2032, 12 percent of the protein consumed in the world will come from this type of more balanced food production system,” said BioTech Foods CEO Íñigo Charola.
The cultured meat industry has come under fire recently due to the product’s high costs, scalability issues, and biological limitations. A recent study claimed that cultured meat could actually be 25 times worse for the planet than growing and slaughtering animals.
It’s unlikely that the latter will be phased out anytime soon, as global demand for meat will only grow as peoples’ standard of living improves. Rather than cultured meat supplanting traditional meat or failing altogether, it could end up acting as a sort of backup.
“With the challenges imposed on global supply chains, cultivated protein offers the potential to stabilize food security and global protein production,” Charola said.
The BioTech Foods factory is scheduled to be completed by mid-2024.