3-D biomeat: Is it finger-lickin’ good? Biomeat, a.k.a., cultured or cell-based meat, is an emerging area of food science that food manufacturers, food retailers, and restaurant chains are currently monitoring as consumers look for alternatives to traditional meat sources.

Biomeat is laboratory-grown meat that starts in a petri dish as animal cells, amino acids, and carbohydrates. With time, the cells grow and multiply into a cluster of meat, containing the same nutrients as meat derived from traditional livestock and poultry farming and seafood harvesting. Roughly thirty companies around the world are developing cell-based meats, including cell-based steak, chicken, duck, and fish. In the U.S., Memphis Meats, headquartered in Berkeley, CA, has raised over $150 million in new investment to fund a biomeat production facility. Noteworthy investors include Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Tyson Foods, and Cargill.

In the U.S., the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration will share regulatory oversight of cell-based products derived from livestock, poultry, catfish, and other seafood. In 2018, the agencies announced a joint regulatory framework. The FDA will oversee cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth. The USDA will assume oversight at the cell harvest stage and oversee the production and labeling of the cell-based meat products. To date, no cell-based meat product has completed regulatory approval.

3-D printing adds an interesting twist to the production of biomeat. In a July 16, 2020 press release, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) announced that it had formed a partnership with 3D Bioprinting Solutions, a Russian company, to develop the world’s first laboratory-produced chicken nugget. With 3-D printing technology, alternate layers of lab-cultured chicken cells and plant-based ingredients are combined to “print” an entire nugget, composed of approximately 20% cell-based chicken and 80% plant-based ingredients. Still in the development stage, a final product, complete with KFC’s herbs and spices, should be ready for the companies’ internal testing in Moscow in Fall 2020. Availability of these hybrid nuggets to the Russian consumer remains at least two years down the road and only after regulatory approval.

The marketplace has seen substantial growth in the 100% plant-based meat sector, spearheaded by Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. In fact, Impossible Foods recently launched a direct-to-consumer e-commerce website. Is there room in the alternative meat space for biomeat? Will consumers respond favorably? Those answers may only be known after further R&D and investment in this evolving space.