- Mosa Meat, a lab-grown meat company based in the Netherlands, has completed a $8.8-million funding round led by Merck's venture capital arm, M Ventures, and Swiss meat processor Bell Food Group. According to The Wall Street Journal, it is Merck's first investment in the food industry.
- M Ventures told the newspaper it's possible that parent company Merck may provide Mosa Meat with the growth medium in which the meat cells are grown and also share its cell culture technology expertise with the startup.
- Mark Post, Mosa Meat's co-founder and chief scientific officer, told the Journal that the company is scoping out locations for a pilot production facility and plans to have its beef products in European restaurants for about $10 per burger by 2021.
The lab-grown meat space just got a big boost from Big Pharma, potentially speeding up adoption of the new products as companies work to bring them to market. The earliest any company plans to introduce so-called "clean meat" items is the end of 2018.
Germany-based Merck makes cell culture media, so having business interests in the process of producing lab-grown meat is not a stretch. The company could gain Mosa Meat both as a customer and a beneficiary of its cell culture technology, plus the financial stake gives Merck an insider's role in the trendy segment of lab-grown meat.
Should this investment in Mosa Meat work out, Merck could make other investments in the rapidly growing lab-grown meat business. Cargill and Tyson have invested in Memphis Meats, a Silicon Valley lab-grown meat and poultry startup, and Tyson Ventures, the venture capital arm of Tyson Foods, recently co-led a $2.2-million investment round for Israel-based Future Meat Technologies.
Mosa Meat isn't the only food company with a pharmaceutical firm behind it. Daiya, which makes vegan and soy-free cheese, was purchased last year by Japanese neutraceutical company Otsuka. The deal was seen as providing the plant-based food company with access to expertise and advanced pharmaceutical-grade equipment from its new parent.
Despite the potential benefits, though, financial backing from a pharmaceutical company could add to the impression that lab-grown meat is more of a lab experiment than actual food. U.S. consumers don't seem entirely sure about the products, although 40% of participants in an online survey earlier this year said they would be willing to try lab-grown meat in stores or restaurants.
As research and development goes on, questions remain about when cost-effective lab-grown products will hit the market and how the government is going to regulate and label them. A recent phone survey by Consumer Reports found that most consumers think lab-grown meat should be labeled differently than conventionally raised meat from slaughtered animals. Farm and ranch groups couldn't agree more and have asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep lab-grown products from using the word "meat" or "beef" on labels unless what's inside the package is derived from slaughtered animals.
Producers of lab-grown meat, poultry or fish may have to engage in a coordinated educational campaign to explain what their products are and how they're made. They stress that the process doesn't kill animals and uses much less water and land — and produces far less greenhouse gas emissions — than conventional animal agriculture, so a sustainability factor is on their side.