Raising the steaks: the first 3D printed sirloin is unveiled
An Israeli company on Tuesday unveiled the first 3D-printed rib eye steak, using live animal tissue culture, in what could be a leap forward for lab-grown meat once it receives approval regulatory.
During the coronavirus pandemic, alternative protein products have surged in popularity, prompting nearly every multinational food company to rush to bring their own versions to market. Plant-based products have often been processed patties or nuggets – “everyday” foods that are easier for companies to produce – that aim to mitigate the climate effects of the worst offender: Americans eat nearly 50 billion hamburgers per year, according to the US Department of Agriculture. .
New 3D bio-printing technology from Aleph Farms – which uses live animal cells as opposed to plant-based alternatives – brings premium whole muscle cuts to market, expanding the reach of alternative meat in what should be a rich area of expansion for food companies. A survey of more than 1,000 American adults, conducted by MRS research for agricultural company Proagrica, showed that 39% of American consumers have considered going vegetarian or vegan since the start of the pandemic. Health issues, climate change and animal welfare are driving this.
Several other companies are racing to capture what should be a healthy appetite for what is often referred to as “cultured meat.” San Diego-based BlueNalu announced plans to bring cell-based seafood to market in the second half of this year; Israel-based Future Meat Technologies and Dutch companies Meatable and Mosa Meat aim to bring cultured meat products to market by 2022, each with proprietary methods of culturing meat tissue from punch biopsies of live or slaughtered animals.
But the absence of a regulatory framework could hamper the race for companies to market. In December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the world’s first head of state to eat cultured meat, and that same month Singapore became the first country in the world to grant regulatory approval for the sale of cultured meat. . It is still unclear when other countries will follow. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has not set a date to rule on the matter.
The new meat-making process, developed with research partners at the Israel Institute of Technology, prints living cells that are incubated on a plant matrix to grow, differentiate and interact to achieve the texture and qualities of meat. a real steak. It has a system similar to an animal’s vascular system, which allows cells to mature and nutrients to move through thicker tissue, resulting in a steak with a shape and structure similar to traditional cow tissue before. and during cooking.
“It’s not just protein, it’s a complex and emotional product,” says Aleph CEO Didier Toubia. He says the product reflects the sensory quality, texture, flavor and fatty marbling of a traditionally produced ribeye.
Toubia’s claim will soon be tested. Unlike the plant-based burger patties or strips of meat used in a more complex dish, Aleph’s rib eye will often be served unadorned and in the center of a plate – without a bun, sauce or other ingredients for the dish. to disguise. Toubia said the company will even be able to adapt the steak to a specific country or palate, for example by making it more or less tender, depending on the taste of the consumer.
“With cows, the breed has a role, but the quality comes from the feed. With our cultured meat, it’s similar,” Toubia said. “We control the culture process and we can design meat specifically for a market, adjusting the amount of collagen, connective tissue and fat, to tailor the meat to specific needs. The idea is not to replace traditional agriculture but to build a second category of meat.
Toubia recognizes that it will still take some time to bring products to market and to develop so that its products are competitive with traditional products. With a focus on higher-end, higher-quality products, he says, being first is not a primary goal.
“From our perspective, time to market is important, but time to acceptance is more important,” he said. “Companies that make an impact aren’t necessarily the first to go – it’s Tesla versus the Nissan Leaf. And in any new technology that is expensive upfront, like solar panels, the cost goes down because of the cost savings. ‘ladder.
Toubia says Aleph Farms invested $14 million in developing its thin-cut steak unveiled in 2018 (which didn’t use 3D bioprinting) and now this thicker, fattier rib eye. He estimates that it will take five years to reach cost parity for growing meat products on a large scale.
Seventy companies are now moving quickly to bring to market beef and other meat, poultry and seafood products derived from muscle tissue grown in the lab with cells taken from a living animal. The past year has been a landmark one for the industry, according to Caroline Bushnell, director of corporate engagement for the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that promotes alternatives to traditional meat, dairy and eggs. . Memphis Meats secured a record $186 million second round of funding, followed by Mosa Meat’s $75 million round later in the year.
In March 2019, the FDA and the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service agreed to establish a joint regulatory framework for human foods made from cultured cells of livestock and poultry, with the FDA overseeing the cell banks and FSIS overseeing the processing, labeling and packaging of these foods. some products. In October 2020, the FDA issued a request for information on the labeling of seafood from cell cultures, but no date has been set for the announcement of regulatory details.
Toubia is optimistic about getting the approval.
“Agencies have been very proactive in reaching out to industry and open to learning from the space early on to assess the safety of these products,” he said. “We’ve been interacting with the USDA and FDA for two and a half years, and we think the United States could be one of the first countries to phase out cell meat.”
Although the March 2019 agreement is the most recent official document specifically outlining FDA and USDA interactions on foods made from cultured animal cells, the FDA said in a statement that it encourages companies working on animal cell culture for food to contact the agency early in the development phase to begin discussions.
“The agencies have identified three specific topics (premarket evaluation, labeling, and transfer of jurisdiction) to be advanced by designated working groups and are collaborating in other ways,” the FDA said in a statement. The agency’s spokeswoman did not offer any dates when these will be brought forward.
Toubia says the company’s first products will hit the market in the second half of 2022. He says that because cultured meat can be traced back to a specific cell, there will be greater transparency than with the traditional animal agriculture, without the need for antibiotics. And because the meat will be grown in a sterile environment in a closed system, it will be shipped with certified zero pathogens, which can potentially help preserve the meat longer.
Traditional animal agriculture pushed back against plant-based meat, saying common nomenclature was confusing to consumers, leading to a flurry of legislative activity and litigation over labeling. It’s unclear whether the USDA will approve cell-based products to be labeled as “meat.”