An Israel-based company produces lab-grown, cultivated meat without cruelty

"We strongly believe that culture meat is an engine of change."
Nergis Firtina
Lab-grown meat
Lab-grown meat

AndreyPopov/iStock 

Have you ever tried cultivated meat before? If not, what you're about to learn will make you want to. Let us introduce you to Believer Meats, formerly known as Future Meat Technologies.

Established in 2018, the company says, "the only difference is that it’s been grown in a lab from high-quality, non-GMO animal cells. The result is meat that doesn’t require compromising on taste, quality, or environmental impact. It’s time to enjoy meat that’s as good for you as it is for the world."

We talked to co-founder and chief scientific officer Prof. Yaakov Nahmias from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem about Believer and cultivated meat.

The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.

IE: How did your team first come up with this idea? 

Prof. Yaakov Nahmias: "It was during my sabbatical at MIT. I received a phone call from an investor who wanted to know my opinion about cultured meat. I told them it was silly, as the cost of the cell feed media alone would reach $200 per kilogram of meat even under the best conditions. Naturally, the investors were disappointed, and we ended the calls. "

An Israel-based company produces lab-grown, cultivated meat without cruelty
Prof. Yaakov Nahmias

"Fortunately, I had time to sit by the Charles River and think. My friends were growing insect larvae with just a few thousand cells for $5 per kilogram. Why was it so expensive to grow cells? It turns out that most multicellular organisms, regardless of size, have an organ like the liver that removes waste products like ammonia. This allows us to recycle blood by utilizing all our nutrients effectively. But when you grow cells in a bioreactor, the stew in their own waste products limits their growth. So, I took the time in 2016 to design a system that can actively remove waste products from high-density cultures of animal cells. Two years later, I met the CTO of Tyson Foods at a conference. We both laugh about the field until I sketch out the new system I developed, and the rest is history."

IE: There are similar companies in the market to yours. How does Believer differ from others?

"Believer Meats is doing almost everything differently from other companies. Most companies use stem cells. Unfortunately, stem cells are inherently unstable and require quite a few growth factors and hormones to expand, making the cell feed medium incredibly expensive. We, on the other hand, are using fibroblasts. These connective tissue cells require no growth factors and are exceptionally robust. Without growth factors, our cell feed medium is ten times lower than our competitors. "

"In addition, we developed a method to adapt our cells to grow as a single-cell suspension. This means that cell growth is not limited to the bioreactor surface area. Usually, cells like stem cells need to stick to surfaces like carrier beads. This limits stem cell density to about 7x106 cells per mL. In contrast, the Believer Meats process uses non-adherent cells, reaching cell densities upwards of 100x106 cells per mL. This simple difference in density means Believer Meats factories can conceptually be 14 times smaller than its competitors in the field."

IE: Please explain non-GMO production. How many products of your company are produced this way?

"Believer utilizes fibroblasts instead of traditional stem cells. Fibroblasts are robust connective tissue cells that grow efficiently, even in complex environments. They undergo a process termed spontaneous immortalization in which cells rearrange their chromosomes and start growing indefinitely without genetic intervention. Thus, Believer’s cell stock for chicken, lamb, beef, and pork is non-GMO."

IE: Can you explain the relationship of company policy with ecological balance? 

"We strongly believe that culture meat is an engine of change. Based on our preliminary work, the production of cultured meat will produce 90 percent fewer carbon emissions and use 98 percent less land and 83 percent less water than current approaches for cattle farming."

"The potential of releasing more than 600M acres of pastureland to nature is truly inspiring. It could mean massive reforestation over North America and potentially making the United States carbon neutral for a decade. "

More about cultivated meat

Cultivated or cultured meat is produced by cultivating animal cells without killing or slaughtering animals. It has the potential to improve animal welfare, food security, and human health by addressing the environmental effects of meat production, in addition to the possibilities for climate change mitigation. Mark Post developed the first cultured beef burger patty in 2013 at Maastricht University. It was made from over 20,000 tiny strands of muscle tissue, cost over $300,000, and took two years to complete.

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