Affordable lab-grown meat: India looks to become global cell-based meat hub

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

The world’s first research centre focused on research and development in the cell-based meat category has been announced in Maharashtra, India, with the first phase set to open by 2020. ©Getty Images
The world’s first research centre focused on research and development in the cell-based meat category has been announced in Maharashtra, India, with the first phase set to open by 2020. ©Getty Images

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The world’s first research centre focused on research and development in the cell-based meat category has been announced in Maharashtra, India, with the first phase set to open by 2020.

Dubbed the Centre of Excellence in Cellular Agriculture, the facility is a collaborative effort by the Good Food Institute (GFI) India and the Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT) Mumbai.

“From a broad perspective, the goal [of the institute] has always been to think of India as a manufacturing and scale-up hub [for cell-based meat], and to reduce the barriers to entry for cell-based meat [into the market],” ​GFI India Managing Director Varun Deshpande told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“When it comes to hard technology like cell-based meat and other biotech, there is still a dearth in infrastructure and basic labs in terms of advancing these, [and we hope to change that].”

The Centre was established with the partnership and encouragement of the government of Maharashtra in India.

In terms of concrete agenda items, the centre will not only provide facilities for related start-ups to investigate and create proofs-of-concept, but also conduct contract research for relevant private industries and start-ups and create curriculum and training for the sector.

“Perhaps most importantly, we will also look at taking up open access research for the scale-up of cell-based meat,”​ said Deshpande.

Major research areas will include those that are known to be challenges to the scale-up of the sector or relevant opportunities, such as efficient bioprocess to utilise and design bioreactors for more productive scale-up.

Another major focus will be on creating a talent pool from allied sectors including mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, biopharma and the like.

“India is a hub of outsourcing in the biopharmaceutical industry as well, [and] we think that bringing in some of that expertise to [cell-based meat manufacturing] will also be applicable,”​ he said.

Long-time goals

According to Deshpande, the major reason that India was selected to base the centre in was not only the country’s strong potential as a manufacturing and outsourcing hub, but also the rising demand for protein in the country.

“As the demand for protein rises in India, we’re going to have to offer alternate production methods. [As such], we want to focus on relentlessly driving down the price of this protein to make it affordable and accessible to all, so that it will become an engine of nutrition for the country,”​ he said.

“Additionally, apart from supplying locally, we also want to function as a manufacturing hub for the world [eventually]. Local demand may build [more slowly] than global demand, but we want to be ready with the infrastructure to support this.”

He added that the overarching goal is to create a consortium across research institutes that have expertise in things like early-stage research and scale-up research, as well as involving private industry to move things forward.

“In two years, I believe we would have this consortium in place to function as an engine of growth for start-ups and open access research in this area, and in 10 years we want to be front and centre when it comes to driving down the cost of cell-based meat,”​ Despande said.

“This lowering in cost [should be across all different categories], whether it’s seafood, chicken, pork, or other kinds of meat.”

Indian government grants funding for cell-based meat research

The Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in India has received INR45mn (US$645,000) in grant funding from the Indian government’s Department of Biotechnology for an eighteen month project on cell-based mutton production.

CCMB has also been an affiliate partner with GFI for research into the cell-based meat sector across the past year.

“As far as committed funds go, this is one of the largest grants of this kind anywhere in the world for this sector,” ​said Deshpande.

With regard to regulations and how this governmental support is expected to affect regulatory control in the future, he added that things looked ‘hopeful’.

“We are talking to all the related stakeholders as well as the relevant regulatory body in India, which would be the Food Safety and Standards Authority India (FSSAI),”​ he said.

“Regulations [and other guidelines] surrounding cell-based meat will take a while, but I believe India is well-equipped to handle this, and all this support also gives us hope [that things will go smoothly].”

Why cell-based meat?

Deshpande added that he believes Asia will definitely be the epicentre for the global cell-based meat sector moving forward, and that a lot more private sector involvement should also be expected.

“We will see more from large meat producers, maybe even setting up their own labs and so on. There will definitely be something on the market in the next few years, and that will be the catalyst for everyone to move forward too,”​ he said.

From a scientific standpoint, sustainability foci aside, the goal of cell-based meat research is also to make meat even better.

“Right now, there may be issues with the supply chain where every cut of meat is not of uniform quality and nutritional value,” ​Deshpande said.

“So, if we are able to standardise manufacturing and create nutrition and quality parameters that are affordable [in] every single cut of meat, this is the ultimate, post-scarcity vision for meat and the future of this industry.”

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