Up in Alberta, Canada, a young startup is quietly working to accelerate the production of cultured meat.
Future Fields is developing a key to unlock the potential of cellular agriculture: animal-free media. For those not in the know, media is the liquid, nutrient-dense “food” that allows animal cells to rapidly grow and form meat in a lab. It’s also one of the most expensive aspects of the cultured meat process, partially because the go-to media right now — Fetal Bovine Serum — is extremely expensive (and controversial).
Future Fields is developing an animal-free media which it will sell to cellular agriculture and biotech companies alike. If effective, it will help drive down manufacturing costs for cell-based meat. The serum is specifically made for cultured chicken cells and is expected to be available within two years. According to Future Fields co-founder Lejjy Gafour, who spoke to me on the phone last week, media is more effective when it’s specialized for one specific type of cell line.
Down the road, Future Fields wants to use its unique media to develop its next product: actual cultured chicken. The company plans to initially sell their poultry to secondary processors and then eventually develop their own line of consumer-ready products. If they stay within their two-year timeline for the serum, Gafour says they plan to have the cell-based chicken to market in five to seven years.
If so, that puts them well behind other cultured meat companies like Memphis Meats or Mosa Meats, both of which have claimed they’ll have cultured meat to market by 2021. There’s also JUST, who hopes to make the first sale of cell-based meat by the end of this year. In more direct competition, Japanese company Integriculture is also developing a food-grade media which can be used to make cultured meat.
However, there are definite advantages to being one of the later entrants in the cell ag space. That means that other companies can shoulder the burden of figuring out cost-efficient production strategies, beginning to familiarize consumers with the concept of cell-based meat, and, most importantly, nailing down regulatory frameworks. By the time Future Fields enters the market with their cultured chicken, they’re no doubt hoping there will already be an established cell-based ecosystem in place.
In the end, it won’t really matter who gets to market first. The cellular agriculture space is new and has a lot of potential, especially if consumer concern around the negative environmental impact of animal agriculture continues to grow. “There’s room for a lot of players in the [cell-based meat] ecosystem,” Gafour told me.
That’s not to say that Future Fields won’t have its fair share of hurdles. The company has yet to publicly put its media or cultured chicken to the test, and it doesn’t have any outside funding. It also seems overly ambitious for such a small company to have multiple areas of focus. Future Fields is creating an animal-free media, developing a cell-based chicken product and, eventually plans to make its own branded product.
It’s probably best for Future Fields to focus their attention on the product with they could have the most wide-reaching impact: culture media. Hopefully the company can help put cell-based meat on our plates a lot sooner.