The cells developed at their facility were taken from a live pig because the smell and taste of fat can’t be replicated any other way.
We've all heard about lab-grown meat. Now a bioengineering company in the United Kingdom is trying to make meat substitutes tastier.
Bioengineers at Hoxton Farms in London say the secret to good-tasting meat is the fat which holds the flavour.
They say the stem cells developed at their facility were taken from a live pig because the smell and taste of fat can't be replicated any other way.
"In usual plant-based formulations and products, you have a lot of palm oil and you have a lot of coconut oil, and it just doesn't have that flavour. You know, the thing I'm after as a chef is flavour number one, and it's the thing that's missing from all of these products," said Josh Hatfield, the product development chef of Hoxton Farm.
One of the most commonly noted shortcomings of lab-grown meat is the high cost of producing it, but according to a report published by global analysts McKinsey and Company in 2021 found that "since developing the first prototypes, companies have been able to reduce costs by 99 per cent".
Hoxton Farms hopes to eventually reduce the cost of their products below that of traditional meat.
"Initially, the cost of things like cultivated meat and products containing cultivated fat might be higher than a burger or sausage that you buy in the supermarket," said Ed Steele, the co-founder of Hoxton Farms.
"But over time, that will change. What we make is made in a really efficient way. It has plenty of other benefits, but in terms of costs, specifically, we'll manage to reduce the cost down to below the cost of eating traditional meat".
A report on lab-grown meat published in January by analysts Research and Markets claimed the industry is projected to be worth just under €1.8 billion by 2035.
According to the report, the estimate is subject to caveats, namely the high demand for plant-based food and the growing vegan population becoming an obstacle to the industry achieving this figure.
There are still psychological barriers to eating lab-based food which could also restrain the market.
'Not necessarily better for the environment'
One of the reported benefits of the meat alternatives is its environmental credentials.
While Hoxton Farms hopes that sustainable fats will attract more people to eat alternatives to meat, some scientists and food technology experts point out that, while the industry may cut on farming emissions, its carbon footprint isn’t necessarily lower.
On the contrary, a study in pre-print from the University of California Davis (UC Davis) says cultivated meat is likely to have a greater impact based on current production methods.
It argues that if companies have to produce growth medium to pharmaceutical standards, they will use more - not less - resources.
"What we need to understand here is that it’s not necessarily better for the environment, that it’s not a given that cultivated meat is better for the environment. It has to be designed into the production," said Dr Edward Spang, a food science and technology researcher at UC Davis and one of the study authors.
The study hasn’t been published in a scientific journal yet and is waiting to be peer-reviewed.
Countries around the world are having varying approaches to cell-cultivated meat.
Italy is considering a draft proposal that could result in a complete ban on so-called "synthetic food," if approved by parliament.
US regulators have, on the contrary, approved the sale of chicken made from animal cells in June 2023, allowing two California companies to offer lab-grown meat to the nation's restaurant tables and eventually, supermarket shelves.
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