WhatisCultivatedMeat.com is peer-reviewed by a team of academic and industry experts who serve as technical advisors for the website's content. Dr. Elliot Swartz, lead scientist at Good Food Institute, is one of these advisors. Here Swartz discusses his experiences in the cultivated meat industry and sheds light on its future.
When did you first hear about cultivated meat?
I really started to pay attention to cultivated meat in late 2015 or early 2016 when UPSIDE Foods (then Memphis Meats) raised their first funds, which gathered some attention in the press. From that point on, I started to follow the progress of the industry pretty closely.
How did you end up working with cultivated meat? What drew you to this field?
For me, working on cultivated meat has enabled me to find my "ikigai," which is a Japanese term for something that gives a person a sense of purpose. The topic of cultivated meat enables me to apply my scientific training in stem cell biology to the very challenging problem of cultivating meat from animal cells at large scales while simultaneously addressing some of the problems I care about most such as climate change, environmental degradation, and animal welfare.
What does Good Food Institute (GFI) do?
GFI is an international network of nonprofit organizations with teams in the United States, Europe, Brazil, India, Israel, and the Asia Pacific region. Our science and technology teams map out the most neglected areas that will allow alternative proteins such as cultivated meat ultimately compete on taste and price. We create open-access resources to educate the next generation of scientists and entrepreneurs, and we also fund research that addresses the most critical bottlenecks facing these industries. Our policy teams ensure that alternative proteins are a core component of policy discussions around climate change mitigation, global health, and biosecurity and we advocate for additional government funding and incentives that will enable a transition to a world where alternative proteins are no longer alternative. Finally, our corporate engagement teams aim to replicate transformations in other sectors such as the energy sector to demonstrate how alternative proteins can be profitable while meeting environmental, social, and governance goals.
What is your role at GFI, and what does it entail? What projects are you working on?
I'm the lead scientist specializing in cultivated meat for our US-based team. In a nutshell, my role is to help uncover and define the largest technical and economic bottlenecks facing the cultivated meat industry and to communicate these effectively so that they can be addressed. Currently, I'm working on disentangling some of the key questions around cell culture media costs, namely what volumes of growth factors and amino acids will we need to support a scaled cultivated meat industry, how much will they cost, and what's needed to ensure those supply chains are built in time.
What do you see in the near future for cultivated meat and alternative proteins in general?
Cultivated meat is still in its early stages, and it has enormous potential. But to reach this potential, new innovations to solve or optimize challenges will be needed. By the year 2025, it's likely that cultivated meat will be on a few restaurant menus in many of the largest meat consuming markets of the world such as the United States, Europe, China, Japan, and Brazil, with government approvals in additional regions continuing throughout the rest of the decade. Cultivated meat is still likely to be produced on a comparatively small scale until at least 2030 (think less than 1% of global meat production), but during this time I believe that consumers will begin to get acquainted with and accept this new form of meat production. Additional evidence will accumulate that will lead policymakers and other stakeholders to buy into cultivated meat as part of the solution for mitigating the negative externalities of animal agriculture and this will drive the industry to new heights in the 2030s and beyond.
What are the biggest road bumps or blocks in bringing cultivated meat to the dinner table?
The biggest roadblocks are the current costs being high and the amount of new infrastructure that will need to be constructed to produce meaningful amounts of cultivated meat, which comes with not only high dollar costs but also high time costs. The positive news is that research over the past two years has enabled a deeper understanding of the cost drivers so that we can begin to address the underlying technical challenges from the scientific side. But another key component will be the policy side and how much support governments are willing to give to scale this industry, which can be harder to predict. If those dominoes fall, the final hurdle will be the consumers themselves, but I personally view that as the easiest part of the puzzle!
What can the average person do to support the future of cultivated meat?
They can support organizations like GFI, which run entirely on philanthropic donations. Other organizations like New Harvest similarly rely on the support of generous donors. The diffusion of innovations theory is fascinating and the spread of an idea through smaller social networks and personal relationships is highly underrated. Therefore, I recommend talking about cultivated meat with their friends, family, and acquaintances and sharing evidence-based resources that summarize the latest information on cultivated meat, such as those created by GFI and here on WhatIsCultivatedMeat.com. Finally, they can purchase cultivated meat and other alternative proteins as they become more available in their areas.
What advice do you have for students interested in working with cultivated meat and other alternative proteins as a career?
The world is just run by people like you and me. All the best leaders of companies, countries, or communities are just people. The sooner you can see yourself in their shoes, the easier it will be to make the change in the world you want to see. And don't forget to check out GFI's resource hub for students!
- Elliot Swartz, PhD, Lead Scientist at Good Food Institute
See Dr. Elliot Swartz's bio, webinars, podcasts, and publications here.