We grow plants. So why not grow meat?
At least that’s the thinking behind Dutch startup MosaMeat. Grit Daily caught up with Jonathan Breemhaar — the first employee at MosaMeat — at TechChill to get a closer take on how “tissue engineering” could be at the core of what satiates the carnivore in most of us.
1. Between Mark, Peter and yourself your team has an interesting set of backgrounds. Share those.
At MosaMeat we are working on meat production in a completely different way: growing just the meat itself instead of raising and slaughtering whole animals.
The company has been founded by Mark Post and Peter Verstrate in 2015, but they have been working on the subject of cultured meat already for a much longer time. Mark is a professor with a background in medicine and tissue engineering and Peter brings in knowledge from his career in the traditional meat industry.
My background is in mechanical engineering where I always loved the inventing part: trying to come up with new ideas and solutions and building stuff.
I had heard before that current meat production is causing damage to the environment, but when I watched the documentary “Cowspiracy” I finally started to realize what is really going on and why we urgently need start working on alternatives. I got myself into the project back in 2016 by combining it with my graduation project and later officially started working for the company where I am responsible for the necessary automation in the production process. Being part of a technological development with so much potential has been a dream that came true.
2. What’s the drive behind eating “meat”? Why tackle substitutes, ‘no slaughter” meats or other solutions at all?
Cultured meat is definitely not the only solution to the challenges we are facing. A much quicker alternative is to reduce our meat consumption in the first place. Plant-based meals and diets are increasing in popularity in most western countries thanks to ethical, environmental and health benefits. Even though they are getting better and better over the years, the taste and structure that most of us enjoy so much in meat has not been established yet through plant based products.
But another component why diets are not changed so easily has to do with a cultural aspect. Meat has been part of our diets and traditions for a very long time. Offering the exact same product but produced in a more sustainable way could provide the solution that is still sought for.
3. Your own science has evolved since 2013. Can you bring us up to speed on the timeline?
In 2013 the first-ever hamburger grown in a laboratory was presented and tasted in London. It showed that it was not just an idea anymore but a relevant solution to consider. The burger had a clear texture and taste of meat, but this version only consisted of muscle and still lacked the juiciness and taste that is given normally provided by the fat. Also the cost of production was nowhere near a consumer ready product at a price of around €300.000, provided by Google founder Sergey Brin.
The Dutch government has invested in the developments in the past, but the majority of funding the research and development is relying on investors that foresee the incredible potential. Last summer MosaMeat had received its first major investment of 7.5 million euro. That funding allows us to get up to speed by growing the team and investing it in space and equipment.
We are gaining success in growing fat tissue, although still in small quantities until we optimized the protocols. Besides that we are developing technology that not only reduce labor but also gives the opportunity to keep the whole process clean, making the use of antibiotics obsolete in contrast to traditional factory farm practices.
4. How do you see your competitors? Are any direct? Which one most concerns you?
In the recent years an increasing number of companies are starting to work on developing cultured meat as well.
All of them are still in research and development phase, but some claim to go to market pretty soon. Cultured meat will be a so-called ‘novel food,” and with its unique production method it will take some time before it will be approved for consumption in most countries. Our timeline in which we want to start bringing cultured meat to the market in two to three years is not yet expected to be influenced by the regulatory duration.
Until the first products will hit the market it is hard to tell what everybody is working on right now. But it is clear that there are different approaches to the field.
We are mostly focused on developing the technology to eventually implement in a large scale facilities, working together with existing brands and industries to roll the technology out as fast as possible whereas others are more focused on developing their own brands.
Different companies are also working on different species, we chose beef for now due to the large impact it has on climate and land degradation, but others are working on pig, chicken or even fish.
And lastly there are also differences in companies where some are focused on making exactly meat and others focus on hybrid products where cultured meat is combined with plant-based ingredients. The market has such a potential that I see the increase of competition as something quite positive, once the industry really takes off there will be enough work for all of us.
5. You’ll be speaking at TechChill. What’s one point you want to make to your audience?
At TechChill there will be a lot of entrepreneurial individuals — whether they are building up their own businesses or investing in others. I want to emphasize the importance of changing the way we get our food. With such an audience I hope that one will not only reconsider some of their own food choices, but perhaps even join the industry of plant based and cultured meat products.