Op Ed: Brett Thompson, CEO Newform Foods, on Expanding the Definition of Meat

Brett Thompson founded Mzansi Meat Co., Africa’s first cultivated meat company, in the middle of lockdown, and the company became Newform Foods this summer after a rebrand and new strategy, redirecting its focus from being a consumer brand to offering meat cultivation technology.

Here, Thompson explains that after spending time in the field of cellular agriculture, recently establishing a demonstration facility for cultivated meat products in Cape Town, he believes that we should alter the definition of meat, as cultivated products begin to enter mainstream consciousness and become part of our food system.

Expanding the definition of meat

By Brett Thompson

After working in cultivated meat for four years, and over a decade in plant-based meat, my view on the definition of meat has drastically changed. Historically, “meat” comes from the word “mete” which referred to food in general. While more recent use of the term meat became more narrow — with red meat being considered categorically different to chicken and fish, in Argentina, for example — the meaning of meat is expanding, with meat (carne) now also being applied to poultry and seafood as their industries grow. More recently the definition of meat has been challenged in relation to the plant-based industry.

If Argentina can expand its definition of meat, why can’t the cultivated meat industry consider it?

Ten years ago, the cultivated meat industry arrived in town and forever changed how we looked at making meat. We promised whole-cuts and Wagyu indistinguishable from the conventional. However, bringing a prototype to market at a scale has proven a massive challenge, with texture and nutrition requiring a blend of plant proteins.

Newform meatballs
© Newform Foods

In a very short time, we have been able to catch up. I have seen how cultivated cells enhance plant proteins when there is a cell mass portion of just 10%. When we have done tastings at 50% it is a game-changer.

But a decade on, is it now time we look at the final product? We aren’t selling consumers like for like yet. So should we rather embrace the power of expanding the definition of meat to include its components? Ingredients like fat, bone marrow, and connective tissue, are used across all industries including food, and offer companies an immediate opportunity to generate revenue. As opposed to having to continuously entice new investors with the holy grail of a steak.

I am not suggesting the abandonment of the pursuit of 100% cultivated meat but including a few breadcrumbs in the nearer term to get us out of the forest of sorrow.

The current way we eat meat can be made obsolete with the powerful technology that has taken just years to develop; the next ten years could be turned into five if we expanded the definition of meat and include not just meat 1.0, but what could happen next.


>> Click here to go to Cultivated X where you will see a familiar layout and a focus solely on content regarding cellular agriculture, including fermentation-enabled products, and with more granular categories.

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