Czech start-up testing the waters with their cultivated meat pet food

Czech company, Bene Meat Technologies, is preparing to put cultivated minced beef on the Czech pet food market within the next two years, pending EU approval. But is this country of meat-lovers ready to buy food grown in a petri dish?

If saving the world means becoming vegetarian, we may not survive. One in three Czechs die of heart disease, according to the Czech Statistics Office, and men on average eat their weight in meat each year. Climate and nutritional scientists alike have warned that this type of consumption is not healthy nor sustainable.

The communal BMT office space | Photo: Ela Angevine,  Radio Prague Int.

Bene Meat Technologies (BMT) is one of two Czech start-ups researching more sustainable lab-grown meat, a new technology that has hooked scientists and environmentalists globally. Mewery, based in Brno, is growing pork while BMT is focusing on minced beef, each using unique methods to prolong the life of the original cells.

Petra Nevečeřalová | Photo: Martin Vaniš,  Radio Prague International

“What I found most fascinating about the cultivated meat is that if you take the biopsy sample from the animal—it does not hurt the animal at all—and if you cultivate the meat, you can basically eat the burger and watch the cow that gave you the meat for the burger,” Prague-based scientist Petra Nevečeřalová from BTM said.

Bene Meat is researching a way to make the cells from a cow continue to grow outside of the cow by modifying the cell and engineering an environment that proliferates natural division. They do this without using the unethically sourced fetal bovine serum isolated from the blood of cow fetuses, which has been one of the biggest hurdles to jump.

BMT scientist looking at cells in their medium | Photo: Alexa Wandersee

“We take a small sample of animal tissue, and then we need to make the environment for it to grow in. So we make our own medium which is the fluid in which cells are cultivated—we basically mimic the inside of the body of the animal, and this medium contains a lot of nutrients like minerals, vitamins etc., everything that the cell needs to grow,” explained Dr. Nevečeřalová.

Consumers might have reservations about food grown under a microscope: “It could be important somehow from a chemical or industrial point, but I would feel weird because it’s not natural—like changing what Mother Nature gave us for our benefit. On the other hand, it could be better controlled from a health point of view,” said Katka, a teacher in Prague.

But by controlling everything that goes into the minced beef, the researchers can regulate what comes out in the finished product, according to the BMT scientist.

The growth medium with cells | Photo: Alexa Wandersee

“Cultivated meat is made in a sterile environment in factories. As it is fully controlled, it means it is bacteria and viruses free, so it is much cleaner than conventional meat. It is also cleaner when it comes to the environment, it is cleaner when it comes to hormones and antibiotics (none added in the cultivation media), it is cleaner when it comes to the ethics,” said Dr. Nevečeřalová.

Both BMT and Mewery found ways of growing meat by adding plant-based materials without changing the protein structure. The added physical and chemical structures are vegan because the end product must be edible, and the goal is to be animal cruelty free, according to both companies’ core values.

BMT scientist working in their labs | Photo: Alexa Wandersee

Another goal for both start-ups is to reduce the environmental impact that commercial farming has. Meat production is one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters, land-hoarders, and resource-suckers, according to experts.

Even a day of cutting out meat decreases pollution by 15%, saving 1.63 kg of CO2 emissions from meat production and 322 kg of CO2 emissions from habitat destruction, according to The Darwin Challenge’s metrics for each meat-free day. Cultivated meat could have an even higher reduction.

“Suddenly we can cultivate meat ourselves with less total emissions and land use. So, that’s basically an answer to how to feed humanity without any environmental issues,” Dr. Nevečeřalová added.

Looking under the microscope at the BMT Labs | Photo: Ela Angevine,  Radio Prague Int.

Research by the University of California, Davis suggests that more efficient, climate-friendly beef farming might decrease emissions faster than the scaled-up version of lab meat. The environmental impacts of cultivated meat are only estimates now, but the research on cells hints at other potential benefits, particularly the medical field, according to the lead author of the study.

BTM’s has not up-scaled production yet, so they do not have statistics on the emissions, but Dr. Nevečeřalová agrees that “there is quite deep research of cell influence, and there might be some protocols useful for the future”. So far we do not publish our findings, but it can change in the future,” she says.

Photo: Bene Meat Technologies

Production cost is another factor as currently it is quite expensive, according to the Prague start-up. BMT’s aim is to sell commercially at an estimated price of four to five euros per kilo—a very affordable price compared to the 11-euro grocery store cost.

The timeline for going live on the market is about two years, but this heavily depends on future legislation. Currently, the EU has strict regulations on genetic modification (GMO) for food made for humans, which includes the necessary changes made to animal cells allowing them to grow in a petri dish.

Another doubt expressed about cultivated meat concerns the regulations that will control production.

“I think if people see the results of how this new way of meat is helping the planet, what are the long-term effects for humans, then they, including myself, would be open to trying it. But my main question is if it is safe for humans to eat long-term and how supervised the creation is,” Josefina, a Czech journalism student, said.

The European Food Safety Authority is responsible for reviewing new products through a committee procedure for which BMT would first need to apply in the Czech Republic where the product will first be sold. EU authorization is necessary to sell any new products on the market.

Photo: Bene Meat Technologies

Luckily for BMT, pet food seemed to be easier to get onto the market and people are more comfortable with it. So, after applying to the European Feed Materials Register, BMT’s first product hitting the market in 2024 will be dog and cat food, giving skeptics a taste of what’s to come.

(Alexa Wandersee assisted in research)

Author: Ela Angevine
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