A Chinese startup, CellX, believes it can produce lab-grown pork cheaper than conventional production methods by 2025. The Shanghai-based biotech firm says it has the technical know-how to overcome some of the challenges posed to the young industry.
Food scientists have explored plant-based and lab-grown meat alternatives for several decades now but hefty production costs have long remained an impassable hurdle for the industry and prospective consumers.
However, production costs have dropped significantly in recent years. In 2013 the cost of lab-grown meat was roughly $325 000 per pound, in 2017 the price had shrunk to $11.46.
A significant reason many countries are eyeing conventional meat alternatives is traditional livestock farming’s immense impact on the environment. According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, swine farming contributes 9% of anthropogenic (human-caused) GHG emissions in the livestock industry.
Cultured or lab-grown meats may also prove a more stable food source going forward. Proponents of lab-grown meats point out that cultured meats would not be susceptible to diseases that could harm humans. The pork market has been particularly volatile since the 2018 African swine flu outbreak.
China is the planet’s chief consumer of pork products, accounting for around 30% of the global demand, roughly 86 million tons per year.
CellX, the country’s first lab-grown pork supplier, says its costs of production have already dropped five-fold in its one-year existence and it is aiming for a further ten-fold drop next year, according to Reuters.
CellX uses cells harvested from China’s indigenous black pig and ‘grow’ pork on biological stents which are structures that aid in the pork keeping shape. The biotech startup also employs 3D printing technology to accurately mirror the look and feel of pork products. One investor invited to sample the futuristic pork described the product as somewhat bland but overall quite good.
Not content in just operating in China, the ambitious startup is eyeing the global markets too. Company founder, Yang Ziliang, said CellX’s mission was to solve food insecurity which is not limited to China.
Research shows the firm’s 2025 goal may not be a pipe dream. A McKinsey report estimated that lab-meat costs would reach parity with traditional products as soon as 2030.