Will lab-grown meat, or cultured meat, find takers in India?

In 1964, British science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke wrote a short story called ‘The Food of the Gods’, which was based on a world where technology could be used to create any type of food, including meat . A little over half a century later, the idea of ​​man-made meat is no longer out of the reach of the fanciful imagination.

On July 1, California-based food technology startup Upside Foods partnered with Bar Krane, a Michelin-starred restaurant in San Francisco, to serve cultured chicken to diners for the first time.

This comes just after the US Food and Drug Administration approved Upside Foods and another brand, Good Meat, last month to begin producing and selling lab-grown chicken. Meanwhile, Australian cell-based meat company Wow Food has made a bid to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) to sell lab-grown quail.

Expected to grow into a $1.99 billion industry by 2035, cultured meat, also known as cultured or lab-grown meat, isn’t exactly a new science. The technology behind it has been used for decades in the pharmaceutical industry, being an important aspect of cancer research, vaccine development, drug screening and virology. “We always have viable solutions to be able to create alternative protein solutions that go beyond animals. It was about aligning the technology with this particular goal,” says Bengaluru-based chef-entrepreneur Manu Chandra. “I think one needs to look at this through the prism of long-term stability rather than a quick trend that starts and then goes away.”

over 100 players globally

While the number of startups and enterprises in the meat farming sector has crossed 100 globally, it has been slow to take off in India. But industry players believe that this trend will change with more investment and awareness. “Even though we are not the primary consumers of this product, there will be a demand for it around the world. We can see this as a biotechnology-based economic growth driver and a way to feed the world,” says Bharath Bakraju of Phyx44 Pvt Ltd, a Bengaluru-based company that is working on making milk through precision fermentation . “We have proved to be very good at biotechnology. More than 50% of the world’s vaccines are produced here.

CEO of Atal Incubation Centre, CCMB, Hyderabad N. Madhusudan Rao, where the country’s first research on cell-based meat was conducted in 2019, agrees that the country has the talent needed to jump into the field of farmed meat. “If there is enough support, we are capable of doing this,” he says, adding that this is necessary given the steady rise in demand for meat in India.

Global demand for poultry alone is projected to grow 850% by 2040, according to the Good Food Institute (GFI), a nonprofit think tank and international network of organizations working to accelerate alternative protein innovation. Radhika Ramesh, Policy Specialist, GFI India, says that building future food systems that will ensure an adequate supply of this protein is vital. “That’s where smart proteins come in,” she says.

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Bangalore-based nutritionist Anju Sood also thinks it’s a good idea. She adds that most Indian diets are unbalanced, starch-heavy and lacking in adequate protein, so having better, cleaner protein options on the market is a positive. Sood’s only concern is whether farmed meat will be accepted by Indian consumers. “First let it come in the market, then we will see.”

sustainably produced

Cultured meat is created by extracting a small sample of cells from an animal and allowing these cells to grow and proliferate in a bioreactor, a closed vessel that provides a sterile, nutrient-dense environment.

The vision of proponents of this technology is to have rows of bioreactors that require very little land and water, and offer clean, sustainably produced, cruelty-free meat. “Animal cell cultures are very self-regulating. In some cases, they will not grow well or at all if there is a contaminant. This helps in quality control well,” says Shubhankar Takle, co-founder of MyWorks Pvt Ltd, a Mumbai-based organization that manufactures the scaffold (growth medium) for meat cultured from mycelium, the filamentous, vegetative part of fungi. ) is working on making. ,

cost and acceptance

It’s no surprise that there is still skepticism about lab-grown meat, some of it well-founded. “It is a very good development. But will they be able to scale it? And will there be acceptance in the market? asks Shashi Kumar, co-founder and CEO of Akshayakalp Organic, a Bengaluru-based farmer entrepreneurship initiative. “People have a lot of doubts. If there is no acceptance in the market, it will die.”

There are also some practical considerations that will require time, further research and some breakthroughs before farmed meat can be brought into the mainstream. For starters, despite coming down significantly in price since it was first unveiled in 2013, it’s still more expensive than regular meat because it’s made using techniques derived from the biopharmaceutical industry. “I don’t think price parity will be a problem,” says Subramani Ramachandrappa of Fermbox Bio, a synthetic biology company focused on sustainable manufacturing of alternative biomaterials to replace animal-derived or forest-derived products. “Ten years ago, the cost of producing one pound of farmed meat was about $150,000; now it’s about $1,000.”

energy math

There’s also the fact that farmed meat isn’t necessarily better for the environment because it’s a highly energy-consuming process, which potentially produces carbon dioxide that stays in the atmosphere longer than methane produced by farm animals. Lives “We cannot follow a global trend without understanding the context, our resources and strengths, and our landscape,” says Sameer Sisodia, CEO of the Bengaluru-based non-profit RainMatter Foundation. Instead, he advocates traditional agricultural practices, free- The range suggests choosing grazing and integrated farming systems. “Pure energy math is better for this.”

Ramachandrappa, on the other hand, believes that diversifying protein sources is the only way we will be able to feed ourselves, given that we are expected to be 10 billion people by 2050. “Biotechnology can help us democratize food for the world,” he says, echoing an opinion shared by Mukund Goswami, principal scientist, Division of Genetics and Biotechnology at the ICAR-Central Institute of Fisheries Education.

“Laboratory developed proteins have the potential to meet the demand of our growing population. Where will we get so much extra food? We have to give this option to the consumer as well,” says Goswami, who is currently researching an international project on marine seafood, the first of its kind in India.


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