Looking back
from the future

A thought experiment: Let us imagine for a moment what our own descendants, 100 years from now, will find particularly odd or questionable about human behavior in the year 2020.

While there is evidently no shortage of potential items on that list, one of them might be the way people in our times sourced their meat. Would it be entirely unfair if our great-grandchildren are put off by the fact that we, their ancestors, killed approximately 75 billion captive animals every year, equal to 2,400 animals per second – mainly to get meat on the table? Or that we forced many of these animals to live short, dirty lives under in some cases torturous conditions, and often killed them in their infancy?

Might our descendants also find it slightly distasteful that we bred chicken that grew so fast that after around five weeks – just in time for their slaughter – their legs couldn’t carry them anymore? Will they perhaps have heard stories about how our sometimes very unsafe relationship to domesticated animals may have triggered pandemics or antibiotic resistance? Or, 100 years from now, will they consider it odd that so many nature reserves were once allocated as grazing land for cattle, sheep, and other animals?

Perhaps they will, and perhaps the reason will be that 100 years from now, the vast majority of meat consumed by humans will be grown in bioreactors, just as the vast majority of energy used by humans might be generated by nuclear fusion reactors. Now, as of the time of writing, there are no working nuclear fusion reactors, but scientists have shown that growing meat in bioreactors is actually feasible. This might be a big deal, because the vast majority of humans do love the taste of meat. Furthermore, meat is nutritious and contains, for instance, the perfect combination of amino acids for building muscles. Not only that; it also contains vitamin B12 and heme iron, which are essential to our nourishment, but rare in other foods than meat.

It’s no wonder, then, that we humans have been eating meat for a very long time. Our very distant ancestors, Australopithecus afarensis, probably became carnivores as early as 3.4 million years ago. Some scientists believe that our longstanding appetite for meat led to genetic selection for intelligence, since catching a large fleeing prey requires more brains than eating stationary plants. Perhaps our meat-eating habits explain our superior intelligence and everything that followed! In any case, since meat-eating has been with us for so long, there is very little reason to believe that most people will stop craving this kind of food anytime soon, or ever. Indeed, by some estimates, meat now accounts for some 30 percent of the calories consumed by the human species, and the trend is pointing up, not down. It’s a big business, too: In 2019, the meat trade turned over almost US$2 trillion in value, or approximately 2 percent of the global economy. Today, however, humanity may be on the cusp of a fundamental transformation in the way the vast majority of our meat is sourced, just as when our ancestors began to switch from hunting to farming about 12,000 years ago. That switch from hunting to farming was a revolution with massive implications. In the next few years, we might witness a new evolution where we transition from farming meat to synthesizing it.

Read more about Lars Tvede’s vision on cultured meat in the Epilogue, including thoughts on how synthetization can make our food system smart, digital, and compact and why the revolution of the meat industry will arrive in two waves.

Lars Tvede is a Danish businessman and investor and the author of numerous books including The Creative Society, Supertrends, and The Psychology of Finance. His books have been published in 11 languages and more than 50 editions. Lars spent 11 years in portfolio management and investment banking before moving to the high-tech and telecommunications industries in the mid-1990s. He is the co-founder of several award-winning companies. He also has a strong interest in futurism and trend research.

Supertrends in Cultured Meat

Supertrends AG is a Swiss company that uses crowdsourcing from leading experts across the globe to assemble a future aggregate timeline of the most probable future. The activity on this timeline inspires us to conduct deep dives into sectors and technologies that seem particularly interesting in terms of their future impact on the world.

Having identified cultured meat as one such phenomenon, we conducted a deeper study of that market. This was done by five of our editors, who carried out extensive research while also – and more importantly – interviewing members of our international expert panel, who are all innovators and/or business leaders within the emerging cell-based meat industry. The result, Supertrends in Cultured Meat, provides a summary of our findings.

Supertrends in Cultured Meat will discuss some of the catalysts and obstacles that could make or break the nascent cell-based meat industry, including government policies and cultural or religious factors, and it will analyze the hurdles that must be overcome if consumers and regulators are to embrace the technology with full confidence. It also lists the technical issues that remain to be resolved in the process of scaling up from experimental settings to industrial manufacturing.

Supertrends in Cultured Meat reflects our approach of Future-as-a-Service. It is a periodically updated collection of information that gives background context to the predicted events on our timeline.

This report is divided into seven independent chapters that provide insights into cultivated meat’s present and future. Subscribers to Supertrends in Cultured Meat will receive periodic updates to the report and expert insight, as well as original research on consumer acceptance of in-vitro meat in some of the biggest potential markets. Additionally, there will be related media, conferences with experts, and networking opportunities with key players in cultured meat.

What is cultured meat?

Cultured meat is essentially muscle tissue that is grown artificially in a laboratory environment from animal stem cells. It is distinct from other meat analogues made from plants or insects. As such, it is a novel and highly innovative product, but is it also a product whose time has come? One might think so, considering that it appears to be reaching maturity at a time when some of the problems it claims to solve, such as climate change, global hunger, and problems associated with industrial animal husbandry, raise increasing concern.

The potential market is huge, but there are various factors that may affect the acceptance of cultured meat in different parts of the world. Consumer perceptions will be a critical factor: Will they shun in-vitro meat as “Frankenfood”, or embrace it as a new development in high-tech cuisine, to be enjoyed without ethical qualms? Its detractors argue that the benefits of “clean meat” are overhyped or point to its alleged “unnaturalness”. The fact that some major players in the meat industry have been getting on the bandwagon suggests that the smart money may be on its imminent breakthrough.

Clearly, widespread adoption of cultured meat would have a deep impact not only on traditional meat industry and farming communities, but also on a range of associated industries and business sectors. Even if, as seems likely today, cellular agriculture does not displace the traditional meat industry altogether, but instead complements established farming methods over a decades-long transitional period, the cultural shifts that cultured meat could trigger are potentially far-reaching, and we can only begin to anticipate the ensuing changes in the everyday lives of each and every one of us. This report aims to provide information on the current state of the industry and the underlying technology, but also tries to outline some of the long-term consequences it may entail.

For the purposes of the following discussion, the terms “cultured meat”,"in-vitro meat","cell-based meat","cultivated meat" are understood to include all existing and conceivable forms of in-vitro meat, ranging from beef, pork, mutton, and poultry to fish. It is also occasionally used to refer to products such as cultured fats, foie gras, and human milk. It does not refer to plant-based meat substitutes or insect products.

Basic principle of cultured meat

The trend toward greater acceptance of plant-based meat substitutes has paved the way for the development and future market entry of in-vitro meat, which offers many of the perceived benefits of other meat alternatives but is substantially identical to “the real thing”. Cultivated meat is created in vitro, in a sterile laboratory environment, from embryonic or adult stem cells, myosatellite cells, or myoblasts that are extracted from live animals. A growth medium containing nutrients and growth factors helps to stimulate exponential cell proliferation within bioreactors that resemble the steel tanks used by the brewery industry.

Over time, the cells reproduce to a stage where they begin to combine into muscle tissue. Their growth can be stimulated and shaped using a scaffold, ideally made from an edible material, however, thus far scaffold technology is still in development.

Currently, the only viable cell-based meat products that have been demonstrated to the public resembled ground meat in consistency, but the long-term goal is to be able to create textured three-dimensional structures that resemble high-grade meat cuts, such as steaks, as far as possible.

A detailed description of the bio-engineering processes and technologies involved in cultured meat production is given in Chapter 4. We will begin this report with an overview of the past and present of cultivated meat then provide insight into its future.

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