Aleph Farms raises cell-grown steaks
- Israel-based startup Aleph Farms announced it has produced the first cell-grown minute steak that delivers "the full experience of meat with the appearance, shape and texture of beef cuts."
- Aleph Farms said a barrier to producing cell-grown meat is getting various cell types to interact with each other to build a complete tissue structure as they would inside the animal. But the company claims to have surpassed this obstacle through a bioengineering platform developed in collaboration with the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.
- "Making a patty or a sausage from cells cultured outside the animal is challenging enough, imagine how difficult it is to create a whole-muscle steak," Didier Toubia, co-founder and CEO, said in a release. "The initial products are still relatively thin, but the technology we developed marks a true breakthrough and a great leap forward in producing a cell-grown steak."
Since its founding last year, Aleph Farms has attracted investments from U.S. and European venture capital firms and received assistance from the Israel Institute of Technology and food-tech incubator The Kitchen, which is part of major Israel-based food and beverage company Strauss Group. Those investments could pay off big, considering this breakthrough.
But it might not be profitable just yet. Aleph Farms hasn't announced when the cell-grown minute steak will be on the market, or where it will be sold. This past spring, CEO and co-founder Didier Toubia told Food Navigator the company was still in the R&D stage, but expected to be producing commercial quantities of cell-grown beef within two years.
Toubia said the company is combining technologies that will allow it to reduce production costs of its cell-grown meat. These technologies include using animal-free growth medium and innovations in the bioreactors, which are the tanks in which the cell tissue grows.
Acquiring sufficient backing and reducing production costs have been two main challenges for cell-grown meat companies. But other companies are also making strides. Tyson Foods has invested in U.S. cell-grown startup Memphis Meats and Israel's Future Meat Technologies, as well as in Beyond Meat, which produces the plant-based Beyond Burger.
And Aleph Farms has big competition with the other cell-grown meat developers trying to get their products to market. New Age Meats has produced a cell-grown sausage prototype; JUST has said it will get cultured chicken onto high end restaurant menus very soon; and Memphis Meats said last March that it made chicken strips from animal cells.
Companies managing to get reasonably priced cell-grown meat products to market have a lot to gain. They are all looking to disrupt the $200-billion meat industry by producing items that look and taste identical to conventional products, but appeal to consumers by offering a more sustainable and environmentally sound option.
The strongest opposition to the sector comes from traditional cattle and poultry producers, who don't take kindly to the idea of cell-grown products being labeled as "meat." The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the National Pork Producers Council have been lobbying for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to regulate what they call "fake meat" the same way it does those who produce "real meat." But the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration agreed last month they would jointly regulate cell-cultured meat.
While the NCBA hasn't said anything publicly yet about the latest cell-grown meat news from JUST — which this week announced an agreement to produce wagyu beef — and Aleph Farms, the group said last month that the USDA having "primary jurisdiction over the most important facets of lab-produced fake meat is a step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to do on this issue to ensure that real beef producers and consumers are protected and treated fairly."
Beside the regulatory, funding, timing and cost issues, there's the question of consumer acceptance of cell-grown meat. So far, surveys have shown mixed results on that. An online survey in May revealed 40% of Americans would give lab-grown meat a try, but another more recent study showed while 66% of consumers would try it, only 27% said they would buy it. If consumers are willing to give Aleph Farm's steak a shot when it hits the market, it could shape consumer opinion on cell-grown meat.