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This S’pore startup develops cell-based cuts of pork, beef and lamb

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This S’pore startup develops cell-based cuts of pork, beef and lamb

The race to bring laboratory-grown meat to supermarket shelves and dinner plates is heating up as more companies begin to emerge that grow cell-based meat and seafood, also known as “clean” meat or “cultivated”.

Unlike plant-based meats that have quickly become popular, cultured meat is an alternative to meat grown in the laboratory and produced from animal cells.

However, cultured meat faces serious challenges with cost reduction, expansion and regulatory approval, according to a report by market research company IDTechEx.

Dr. Vinayaka Srinivas co-founded a local startup Gaia Foods in 2019 together with Thanh Hung Nguyen. They are both scientists by training and have more than 20 years of experience in biological research.

Gaia Foods started with a simple idea: a cow weighs more than 600 kg and when we kill it, we only use less than 50 percent to produce meat. So why don’t we produce only the amount of meat that we are going to consume?

“(With) this, we can reduce the great waste of animal products, cruelty to animals and also the diseases that are spread by grazing large herds of cows on a small land mass,” he said.

Substitution of cutthroat meat for cultured meat

Gaia Foods is the first clean red meat company in Southeast Asia to produce meat using stem cell technology.

Image Credit: Seven Mile Road Church

Basically, it develops cellular cuts of pork, beef and lamb; It does this by growing animal cells on plant-based scaffolds or thin surfaces, so that it mimics the texture of cuts of meat rather than ground meat.

It also controls all the materials needed to produce the meat to ensure that it does not contain antibiotics or other contaminants.

The company’s goal is to produce meat in a cleaner, greener and more animal-friendly way that people can consume without any guilt.

In fact, the production of meat grown in a controlled environment is expected to reduce land use by more than 98%, water use by more than 95%, and greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80%.

Srinivas shared that as a cultured meat company, they find it challenging for them to secure a space for them to do their work.

This is not a commercial or coworking space in general. We need a regulatory approved location with all the instruments in place. (It) can be very expensive to start on our own, so we need the support of different agencies to help us with that.

Other than that, most investors like to see the product developed or ready to taste. Since we are very particular with all the ingredients we source, this is one of the biggest obstacles (when we want to) to show our product to investors.

– Dr. Vinayaka Srinivas, Co-founder of Gaia Foods

He also noted that many investors understand that the technology is not going to be profitable in the next few years, so they are willing to invest in them.

Producing cultured meat is an expensive affair

Gaia Foods is developing meat products using only fat and muscle cells from cows, lambs and pigs to eliminate the need to slaughter animals for their meat.

Farmed meat production is very expensive and cannot be scaled profitably.

The cost of production currently stands at S $ 6,000 per kilogramThis is largely due to the expensive animal serum and pharmaceutical grade nutrients that are used to grow and feed the animal cells, respectively.

cultured meat
Image Credit: Food Navigator

As such, Gaia Foods strives to play an important role in making cultured meat profitable meat in the future.

One of the ways to do this is the development of cell lines. Although they use non-genetically modified (GM) cells, growing them outside the animal’s body for long periods of time is a challenge in itself.

However, the duo are confident that they can help lower the price. They are already experimenting with developing a similar serum from plants and yeasts, as well as cell food from nutrients extracted from plants.

They hope to accelerate this development process if they can reach their goal of raising S $ 3 million by the end of this year.

To date, the bootstrapped startup has relied on its $ 125,000 seed funding from Big Idea Ventures.

The Temasek Holdings-backed firm invests in alternative protein companies that focus on cell- and plant-based foods and related technologies. In Singapore, it has invested in Karana, LVL Life, Confetti Fine Foods, and Shiok Meats.

We are still an early stage company to (generate) income (but) after we started the company, we have managed to get the attention of various investors and institutes such as Big Idea Ventures, Temasek Life Sciences, etc.

– Dr. Vinayaka Srinivas, Co-founder of Gaia Foods

Growing cultured meat is much faster

Gaia Foods started in December 2019, just before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Before all borders were closed, we isolated small animal samples the size of a fingernail and collected stem cells from them. From then on, we relied solely on stem cells to do all of our research, ”Srinivas said.

“Cultured meat is the process of producing meat from animal stem cells in a controlled environment. Just like how we produce noodles or any other food material, we will use animal cells, give them the proper nutrition, and harvest them to produce any meat of our choice. “

stem cell meat
Image Credit: Synthego

Generally, growing meat grown in a factory takes between four and six weeks, as opposed to animals, which will take between two and four years.

According to a Strait times According to the report, nutrient broth costs around S $ 300 to S $ 400 per liter, and bovine whey costs S $ 800 to S $ 1,000 per liter. Bovine serum is the most widely used serum for cell culture and is added to nutrient broth to help cells multiply.

The current cost of production is still very high, mainly because the entire supply chain (necessary) to produce some of the components is not in place. In the future, the cost of producing cultured meat will be equal to or less than that of traditional cutthroat meat on the market.

– Dr. Vinayaka Srinivas, Co-founder of Gaia Foods

When asked about some of the misconceptions about cultured meat, Srinivas said the central message they want to focus on is making sure this technology is a very simple way to produce meat and not science fiction.

“This is the biggest mistake (that exists) in people’s minds: that this technology is somehow very secretive and uses a lot of harmful chemicals.”

“Meat of the future”

For the past two years, more than 15 alternative protein startups have established their base in Singapore.

Today, the local alternative protein scene is dominated by pioneers Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, whose hot dogs and meat patties are now common in supermarkets and restaurants.

Gaia Food wants to do the same. Intends to go mass market in the next five years, and they launched their first product in 3.5 years at a price of S $ 15 to S $ 20 per kilogram, which is close to the prices of traditional meat today.

gaia food
Beef Prototype by Gaia Foods / Image Credit: Gaia Foods

In October of last year, Gaia Foods created its first structured meat product – six thin chunks of beef that were baked and served with rice noodles.

Commenting on the food technology industry, Srinivas said that the way we produce and consume food will change significantly in the future.

People will ask more questions about their food source, energy footprint, and animal welfare. With these questions, we see a great opportunity for alternative protein companies to have a very important role to play in the future.

Gaia Foods wants to be one of the leading manufacturing and technical powerhouses when it comes to breakthrough food technology and we see ourselves playing a huge role in transitioning people’s habits from slaughtered to farmed meat in the future.

– Dr. Vinayaka Srinivas, Co-founder of Gaia Foods

Featured Image Credit: Synthego / Food Navigator

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