Numerous startups around the world are researching the mass production of clean meat. In its innovation centre, Merck has defined clean meat as one of its innovation fields. And via its Life Science Business sector, Merck offers those companies faster research and development with their know-how, tools and cell culture media. We talked to Thomas Herget, Head Innovation Hub Silicon Valley, about what Merck is doing in the field of clean meat, when it might catch on and how it may change the food landscape in the decades to come.
What exactly does your company do in the field of clean meat innovation?
The Life Science business sector of Merck is a leading raw material supplier and solution provider to the biopharma industry. We offer reagents and equipment needed for the upstream process which means to grow cells in a bioreactor e.g. cell culture media, growth factors, monitoring tools and bioreactors. Furthermore, we are serving the stem cell industry with cell lines, differentiation devices and analytical tools. All these products are also needed for the clean meat industry.
Do you already have ready-to-go offers?
We are already selling products from our portfolio for biopharma processing into the clean meat industry, especially cell culture media and growth factors. We expect that the first clean meat products on the market will be produced with components designed for the biopharma industry. At present we are evaluating cell culture media development tailored for the cells and cell lines used for clean meat production. Cell culture media is the major cost driver for cell-based meat production and attributes 50% to 80% of all costs. For startup companies it is a very difficult process to develop their own cell culture media for their specific cells or cell lines. Cell culture media comprises of 50 to 100 ingredients which have to be sourced, analyzed, sterilized and combined for each cell type in an optimized fashion. There is a lot of know-how needed. We want to offer our know-how, production skills and facilities to accelerate the clean meat industry.
Who are your customers?
We are selling our bioprocessing products already to the clean meat industry. However, these products have to be optimized. Since cell culture media development is one of the major bottlenecks for this young industry, we are talking with startups currently and plan co-development partnerships to accelerate the launch of clean meat products as a technology enabler.
How will clean meat change the food industry over the next 20 years?
This is a difficult question; nobody can foresee the future. History has shown that the way we eat has changed dramatically over the past hundred years. And especially during the recent years we saw huge changes with trends to vegetarian and vegan, and more healthy food. Also, ethical and sustainability considerations play important roles. Price and taste will always have a major impact. Our predictions and those of key opinion leaders imply that it will take at least 10 years for clean meat to gain some market share. We could envisage that there will be a coexistence of meat produced in traditional way and in bioreactors. The customer will have more choices and will decide based on his own preferences and philosophy. However, when we talk about meat from species like fish, clean meat will have a significant competitive advantage.