The Van Trump Report

SCiFi Foods Bets on CRISPR Technology to Make Cultivated Meat Affordable

Cultivated meat, also known as “lab-grown meat,” is expected to be available to consumers later this year. After Upside Foods became the first cultivated meat company to gain regulatory approval from the FDA, leaders in the industry now see a clear path to clearing the remaining regulatory hurdles. The biggest obstacle the industry now faces is cost, which cultivated beef maker SCiFi Foods is tackling with CRISPR technology.

To produce lab-grown meat, scientists take a sample of various cells—such as stem, muscle, and fat cells—from a live animal via a small biopsy, or from a fertilized chicken egg. They then select the cells that are best destined to grow well and taste good and “grow” them in giant bioreactors. Serums like fetal bovine serum (FBS) – which is made from the blood of fetuses extracted from cows during the slaughter process – are usually needed for cells from a living animal to duplicate. There are some animal-free serums but both versions can be prohibitively expensive and add significant costs to the production process.

In order to eliminate this expense and make its products more affordable, SCiFi is using CRISPR to produce cells that can grow serum-free. SCiFi CEO Joshua March says CRISPR can be used to create dependable cell lines with rich, meat-y flavor that won’t need growth factors, “just simple cell culture: sugars, fat, amino acids.” The resulting meat cells will in turn be used in SCiFi’s hybrid plant/cultivated meat burgers.

According to Fast Company, SciFi has run one successful batch in its 40-liter bioreactor which can produce about 50 burgers. The company’s soon-to-be-built pilot plant will host a 500-liter tank and a cost of $10 per burger by the end of this year. At the same time, SciFi estimates production won’t be economically viable until they upgrade to a 20,000-liter tank. But, the company has an eventual production cost target of just $1 per burger once commercial scale is achieved. 

The cultured meat industry believes the complexity of making cultivated meat will keep prices at a premium for a while. However, as the process is perfected and production is scaled, they expect costs will eventually reach parity with real-meat counterparts. According to their estimates, that might not be as far off as you think. In December, Future Meat Technologies said it could make a cultivated chicken breast for $1.70. Beef is a little trickier but Eat Just is targeting 2030. SCiFi hasn’t provided a timeline but thinks CRISPR technology will help it get there faster than its competitors. 

But some think SCiFi’s use of CRISPR technology could pose a potential roadblock for gaining regulatory approval. It’s less of a risk in the US as CRISPR edited foods are considered generally safe for humans to consumer. However, that’s not the case in Europe and other potential markets.

In the US, the FDA and the USDA share oversight authority for the cultured meat sector. So far, Upside Foods is the only company to pass the FDA pre-market consultation process. Right now, the company only has a pilot-scale facility which opened in 2021 in the San Francisco Bay area and is also utilizing serum-free technology.      

SCiFi and Upside aren’t the only ones experimenting with serum-free cultivation. Global food tech company Eat Just Inc.’s cell-cultured meat division, Good Meat, is working to significantly scale up production after its serum-free media gained regulatory approval by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA). “When we talk about ‘scale,’ we’re talking about 40-plus million pounds, sufficient to achieve national distribution across the US,” explains Josh Tetrick, CEO of Eat Just. 

Eat Just plans to install a 6,000-liter vessel in its new Good Meat production facility, which the company claims to be the single-largest bioreactor in the cultivated meat industry to date. The 30,000 square-foot facility in Singapore will utilize the company’s serum-free formulation process when it opens later this year. The company says it will have the capacity to produce “tens of thousands of pounds” of cell-based meat.

Still, that’s a small fraction of the 106 billion pounds of conventional meat and poultry produced in the US in 2021. Currently, there are over 150 companies working to bring cultivated meat to grocery store aisles, with a total of some $2.6 billion invested in them since 2010. (Sources: FoodDive, FastCompany, Bloomberg)

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