Hampton Creek is a Silicon Valley startup that is working on cellular agriculture products and has already enjoyed some commercial success for its egg-free vegan mayonnaise. As reported by Business Insider, the food startup revealed to The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that it plans to get its meat to stores by 2018 — long before the competition form the likes of Memphis Meats or Mosa Meats.
There’s only a small group of global startups that are working on producing animal-free meat through cellular agriculture, that is by growing beef, chicken, or seafood cells which are engineered in industrial vats and could theoretically be used as bionks with 3D printers to produce geometrically complex edible meat products.
California-based startup Memphis Meats, which has raised at least $3 million, has successfully produced edible lab-grown poultry meat and said it will go to market by 2021. Dr. Mark Post, a researcher in Maastricht, Netherlands, also made a lab-grown burger in 2013 (Google funded the project with over $300,000) and subsequently launched a company called Mosa Meats to further his work.
Hampton Creek — which has raised more than $200 million to date — has had its share of controversy since launching in 2011. The latest on June 26, when Business Insider reports that Target announced it will pull 20 Hampton Creek products, including the startup’s popular vegan mayo (Just Mayo), from its shelves over food safety concerns.
In this regard the company stated that “The allegations that our products are mislabeled and unsafe are false. The Sweet Mustard product complies with all FDA labeling requirements. Our Non-GMO product claims are supported by ingredient supplier documentation. We are confident that our Non-GMO products are properly labeled. We have robust food safety standards, and as such, we remain confident about the safety of all products we sell and distribute. We look forward to working with Target and the FDA to bring this to a quick resolution.”
It should also be said that the company’s core expertise is in plant-based products rather then lab-grown meat however there is little doubt that animal-free meat is the key segment to address for the medium to long term future, as intensive animal farming becomes unsustainable both from an ethical and socio-economic point of view. Hampton Creek CEO Joshua Tetrick illustrated his vision for sustainable food which sees development of animal free meat and seafood as a primary objective:
“At current rates, production of meat and seafood around the world will double to 1.2 trillion pounds by 2050. Our planet cannot afford to supply the water, fuel, pesticides, and fertilizer that industrialized animal production requires. It can’t afford the polluted water or the biodiversity loss. It can’t afford the moral inconsistencies.
We think it’s unlikely that families in Alabama (or anywhere in the world) will consistently choose plant-based alternatives over chicken, beef, pork, and seafood. And when you’re talking animal protein, higher unit volume and accordingly lower prices will necessarily mean industrialized animal production. There’s no conventional way around this math.
Our mission requires a solution to these economic and cultural realities. So, over the past year, we’ve started the early work of expanding our platform to solve the technical challenges of scalable clean meat. Clean meat and seafood are made from cells instead of live, confined animals.
Meat and seafood are primarily a combination of muscle and fat cells. They require nutrients to grow, whether inside an animal or in a clean facility. And the main limiting factor in scaling clean meat has been providing cells with a sustainable and economical source of nutrients required for cell growth. Our methodology of discovery (material isolation, assays, and discovery output) is the same whether we’re finding a plant to replace dairy in butter or a plant to feed cells for clean and sustainable meat and seafood.
With plants providing nutrients for animal cells to grow, we believe we can produce meat and seafood that is over 10x more efficient than the world’s highest volume slaughterhouse (a 1,000,000-square foot facility in Tar Heel, N.C.). All this without confining or slaughtering a single animal and with a fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions and water use. Despite the challenges in front of us, from biocompatible scaffolds and bioreactor design to scaling production, that’s where we’re headed.
Imagine choosing between a similarly priced pound of clean high-grade bluefin tuna belly or conventional tilapia from underwater traps. Or clean A5 Kobe beef versus conventional sirloin (corn-fed and confined). Our approach will be transparent and unquestionably safe, free of antibiotics and have a much lower risk of foodborne illness. The right choice will be obvious.”
Whether 3D printing (or bioprinting) will play a part is unclear at this time. Most cellular agriculture companies at this time are focusing on the meat materials rather than their assembly. However, 3D Printing Business Media has reason to believe that 3D printing will eventually play a part in assembly of lab-grown meat products. In fact, food 3D printing will never make much sense without using laboratory engineered food products.
*This version was revised to include the following modifications:
- The title of the article was changed to reflect the fact that Hampton-Creek has not made any claims as to the 3D printability of their meat products.
- Hampton Creek’s official statement replying to Target’s decision was added.
- CEO Joshua Tetrick’s vision for clean food was also added.