Lab-grown meat: Challenges and opportunities

Lab-grown meat: Challenges and opportunities

Lab-grown meat, also known as cultured or cultivated meat, is a growing sector with the potential to increase global access to sustainable and healthy protein sources. But it’s also a sector that faces immense challenges – and setbacks can come at any time. 

This became clear in November 2023 when Italy banned lab-grown meat. In a contentious vote, 159 members of parliament supported the ban, while only 53 opposed it; and now breaching the law could incur a fine of up to €60,000. In the short term this won’t have a significant impact – because the US and Singapore are the only countries that have approved lab-grown meat for human consumption. 

But as protein production technology becomes more advanced and scalable, other countries around the world are likely to rely more heavily on cultured meat to feed populations and support food security. 

A report by IDTechEx Research predicts that the cultured meat market will be worth USD $2.1 billion worldwide by 2033, and $13.7 billion by 2043. With such significant projected growth in just ten years, let’s look at the key challenges that innovators in this sector are facing. 

Challenges for the lab-grown meat sector

One of the major challenges facing lab-grown meat producers is whether or not they can achieve regulatory approval around the world. In December 2020, Singapore approved cultivated meat for sale – becoming the first country in the world to do so. The US followed in June 2023. 

These approvals show that lab-grown meat is highly likely to become a part of our food ecosystem in more countries in the coming years. If cultivated meat products can pass rigorous approval processes in one or two countries, they can probably do the same in other places too. But progress is slow. In July 2023, the Netherlands became the first European country to allow testing of cultured meats, which is an important step towards market approval. The move is part of the country’s National Growth Fund, which has dedicated €60 million in order to build a cellular agriculture ecosystem and position the Netherlands as a global hub for emerging tech. 

But even for cell-cultured meat companies operating with market approval, high production costs remain a real obstacle. In particular, growth media (the liquids or gels created from the cells of living animals in order to enable cellular growth in lab environments) is expensive to obtain, and this means that scaling production quickly – and providing affordable products to market – will be difficult. 

As it stands, manufacturing scale is limited by cost of production (with cultured meat costing up to $23 per pound to produce), biological constraints (including cell yields and culture volumes), and the cost of regulatory and clean room expenses – because cultured meat facilities can only be big enough for a specific number of bioreactors, after which the construction costs of suitable facilities grow faster than the production benefits of adding additional reactors. 

Similarly, scaling up supply chains in general will be necessary to meet the expected growth in demand for lab-grown meat as more countries move to approve it for consumption; and this will require significant investment and technological innovation. 

But there are also significant opportunities in cell-cultured meat

Climate targets are a global focus across industries and nations right now – with very good reason. And as the meat industry accounts for a significant percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions (accounting for nearly 60% of emissions from all food production sources), lab-grown meat has real potential to cut emissions and help companies and countries achieve their climate goals. 

This is also a key selling point for lab-grown meat products when they do go to market, because a growing number of consumers are actively seeking more sustainable options. That’s one of the reasons why a 2020 survey by ProVeg International found that 62% of respondents were willing to try cultivated meat – and more than 36% said they would probably purchase it regularly. 

And although costs of production are high, cultured meat producers could benefit from significant investment and support from governments, as a number of countries (including New Zealand, Japan, China, and the UK) are committing investment funds to research and development in this sector. 

Liz Specht (Director of Science and Technology at the Good Food Institute) told Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News:

“Cultured meat has the potential to address all of the externalities associated with conventional industrial meat production—from environmental impacts and animal welfare considerations to public health risks associated with zoonotic disease and antibiotic resistance—while ensuring a scalable and secure production system to meet the anticipated growth in demand for animal protein.”

And cultured meat also represents an opportunity to create meat products that have better health outcomes than the meat products currently available to consumers. So in spite of the challenges at play, there are very good reasons to push forwards and develop high quality lab-grown meat products – making this an exciting and rapidly evolving sector to watch. 

Share on


Take your seat at the InFlavour table, a government-backed and world-leading B2B food event by Tahaluf.

E-mail address Submit
Sign up

Want to keep up to date with all our latest news and information? Enter your name below to be added to our mailing list.

E-mail address Submit