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


The race to move laboratory meat to supermarket shelves and dinner plates is heating up as more companies start growing cell-based meat and seafood, also known as “clean” or “meat”. cult ”.

Unlike vegetable meats which have grown rapidly in popularity, cultured meat is an alternative to laboratory meat produced from animal cells.

However, farmed meat faces serious challenges with reduced costs, scale up and regulatory approval, according to report by market research company IDTechEx.

Dr. Vinayaka Srinivas was a co-founder of the local startup Gaia Foods in 2019 along with Thanh Hung Nguyen. Both are trained scientists and have more than 20 years of experience in biology research.

Gaia Foods started from a simple idea: a cow weighs more than 600 kg and when they kill it, we only use less than 50% to produce meat. So why not just produce the amount of meat we will consume?

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

Substitution of butchered meat for farmed meat

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

Image credit: Seven Mile Road Church

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

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

The aim of the company is to produce meat in a cleaner, more ecological and respectful of animals that people can consume without any guilt.

In fact, meat production 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 in more than 80%.

Srinivas shared that as a farmed meat company, he finds it a challenge for them to secure a space for them to do their job.

This is not a commercial or general collaboration space. We need a place approved by the regulations 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 this.

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

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

He also noted that many investors understand that the technology will not be profitable in the coming years, so they are willing to invest in it.

Producing farmed meat is an expensive affair

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

Cultivated meat production is highly expensive and not cost-effectively scalable.

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

farm meat
Image credit: Food Navigator

As such, Gaia Foods strives to play an important role in turning farmed meat into profitable meat in the future.

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

Still, the duo are confident it can help lower the price. They are already experimenting with the development of a similar serum from plants and yeasts, as well as cellular feeding from nutrients extracted from plants.

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

So far, the initial startup has relied on its initial $ 125,000 funding from Big Idea Ventures.

The company backed by Temasek Holdings invests in alternative protein companies that focus on cell-based and plant-based foods and related technologies. He has invested in Singapore Karana, Vida LVL, Fine Foods confetti i Meat Shiok.

We are still a start-up company to (generate) revenue (but) after starting the company, we have managed to get the attention of various investors and institutes like Big Idea Ventures, Temasek Life Sciences and so on.

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

Cultivated meat is much faster

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

“Before closing all the borders, we had isolated small samples of animals the size of nails and harvested stem cells. From then on, we only relied on stem cells to do all our research, ”Srinivas said.

“Cultivated meat is the process of producing meat from the stem cells of animals in a controlled environment. Just as we produce noodles or any other food material, we will use animal cells, give them adequate nutrition and harvest them to produce any meat we choose ”.

stem cell meat
Image credit: Synthego

Normally, the cultivation of meat grown in a factory takes between four and six weeks, unlike animals that take between two and four years.

According to one Straits Times report, nutrient broth costs between $ 300 and $ 400 per liter and bovine serum costs between $ 800 and $ 1,000 per liter. Bovine serum is the most widely used serum for cell culture and is added to the nutrient broth to help multiply cells.

The current cost of production is still very high, mainly because the entire supply chain (needed) to produce some of the components is not in place. In the future, the cost of cultivated meat production will be equivalent to or less than the traditional marketed meat.

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

When asked about some of the misconceptions about farmed meat, Srinivas said the basic messaging they want to bring to the core stage is to make sure this technology is a very simple way to produce meat and not science fiction. .

“That’s the biggest misconception (there is) 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 first-hand people Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, the sausages and beef cakes that are now common in supermarkets and restaurants.

Gaia Food wants to do the same. He intends to go there massive market in the next five years, and launch their first product in 3.5 years at between $ 15 and $ 20 per kilogram, roughly at current traditional meat prices.

food subject
Gaia Foods Beef Prototype / Image Credit: Gaia Foods

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

Commenting on the food technology industry, Srinivas said 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 play a huge role in the future.

Gaia Foods wants to be one of the main technical and manufacturing engines when it comes to new food technology and we see ourselves playing a huge role in the transition from meat habits to farmed meat in the future.

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

Featured Image Credit: Synthego / Food Navigator

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