At one point in the not-too-distant past, the idea of edible protein grown in a lab was the stuff of science fiction. But in what’s felt like a relatively short period of time (a few years), a greater number of companies, individuals, and investors have embraced the concept of cellular agriculture and, more and more, consider it a vital part of our future food system.
Now the cell-based protein sector has a new set of challenges to tackle. As HigherSteaks’ Benjamina Bollag and BIOMILQ’s Michelle Egger discussed this week during The Spoon’s Food Tech Live event, we’re past the days of trying to convince folks that cellular agriculture is a viable reality. Now, companies have to prove the idea of growing protein in a lab can work at scale outside that lab to feed a growing world population, and do so while keeping environmental degradation minimal.
It’s not exactly a simple feat (understatement), and it certainly won’t happen next week (or next year). But during this week’s Food Tech Live, Bollag and Egger pinpointed not just the areas cellular agriculture needs to focus on in order to continue its evolution towards the mainstream, but also ideas for how to get there.
Among those are safety and quality assurance, equipment design, supply chain logistics, and cell culture density, to name just a few things. Egger added that one of the challenges cellular agriculture companies face right now is they are relying on technology from industries (biotech, Pharma) that have never had to scale to the level of mass commodity, which essentially the holy grail for cell ag companies.
Perhaps the biggest — and most important — challenge for these companies will be making cell-cultured protein, whether meat, breast milk, cheese, or eggs, into the hands of many. In other words, how do we make it more accessible to everyone?
It’s a question that isn’t possible to answer in the span of a 30-minute online chat, but definitely one the industry as a whole should consider now, though we’re years away from reaching that stage of mass commodity. Right now, a select few consumers can get their hands on alternative proteins grown in a lab. Those are usually the folks invited to exclusive taste-testings or the ones that can afford the rare fine dining experience for cultured protein.
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that if you truly want to reduce the amount of environmental degradation or provide more options to people or subsidize diets in a healthier manner, you have to get into the hands of everyone throughout this world,” said Egger.
That in turn will require more strategic thinking on the part of the industry in terms of how to reach a wider audience. It will also require collaboration amongst the difference companies currently innovating across the cellular agriculture sector.