• The Acheson Group

Plant- and Cell-Based “Meats”: Advancements and Challenges

Updated: May 21, 2019

by Anabelle Broadbent

We are in the midst of one of the most important food production stories of our age: The intersection of technological advancement and the growing cultural awareness of the potential environmental impact of reliance on animal proteins. It is a juncture that is creating innovative opportunities for the entire protein segment of the food industry – whether it be a plant-based, cell-based, or traditional meat-based businesses.


In fact, plant and Cell-Based meats is an area into which many of the leading traditional meat business are investing in order to expand their offerings to meet both the increases in global demand for protein and consumer demand for an environmentally sustainable form of food production system that is better for the planet, animals, and health. To achieve the goal of feeding the world high-quality protein while reducing the impact on animals, meat companies are reconstituting themselves as protein companies and moving into innovative plant-based and cell-based technologies. Long-term, it becomes a win-win for the food industry and consumers, because it not only provides consumers with options they seek, it is a more efficient way of producing meat, so it will be more profitable over time.


Looking across continents and industries, it is evident that plant- and culture-based protein products are already going mainstream, to which the food manufacturing industry is starting to catch up. McDonald’s has it McVegan burger, Burger King its Impossible Whopper, and FDA and USDA have committed to the joint regulation of cell-cultured meats. The Los Angeles food district began offering vegan meals in all its schools this year, and the European Commission is slated to formalize the meaning of the terms “vegan” and “vegetarian” in a legal sense with regard to food. Additionally:

  • In the past 20 years, plant-based milk has gone from essentially 0% of the market to 13% of the market.

  • Plant-based meat, right now, is about a third of one percent of the market. Even just replicating what has happened with plant-based milk takes us from about $700 million to $26 billion, and that’s without accounting for market growth.

  • Plant-based meat sales were up 23% year on year in the most recent statistics. If plant-based meat sales continue to grow at 20% per year, 30 years takes it to 100% plant-based. And it could happen a lot more quickly than that.

A possible trajectory if trends are maintained is that in 30 years the food industry will not be making meat from animals anymore. This is not pie-in-the-sky statement. Similar technological disruptions/transformations have occurred in recent history outside of the food sector. Look at what has happened with our phones: We went very, very quickly from landlines to cell phones. Cameras: We went from film to digital (have you tried to find film in a retail store lately?). Looking back even further, the transition from horse and buggy to automobiles happened very, very quickly.


Industrial animal agriculture is a marvel of modern science. We live in a moment when technology is available to mimic meat using plant-based ingredients and grow meat from individual cells.


With any innovation, however, comes challenge. Even while some in the meat industry are venturing into the protein-product arena, others are fighting against the use of the word “meat” for such products. And regulators have gotten into the act, such as Missouri’s passage of a bill that deems it a deceptive practice, punishable by imprisonment, to use the term meat for any product not derived from “harvested production livestock or poultry.” The federal government is also looking at the labeling of alternate products; having announced its intent in 2018 to modernize “standards of identity and the use of dairy names for plant-based substitutes,” the similar consideration for “meat” can’t be far behind.


There is a lot that will continue to happen in this area – both advancements and challenges, and TAG is keeping a close eye on it all. We have conducted and developed subject matter expertise in this critical area. It is important to note that the intent is not to disrupt the current animal meat production industry, but to help the industry from within by working with meat companies that are looking to re-brand as protein companies to meet consumer demand, while also providing expertise to food companies that operate solely in the plant-based and/or cell-based segments of the food industry.


Want to know more? Contact TAG today.

About The Acheson Group (TAG)

Led by Former FDA Associate Commissioner for Foods Dr. David Acheson, TAG is a food safety consulting group that provides guidance and expertise worldwide for companies throughout the food supply chain. With in-depth industry knowledge combined with real-world experience, TAG's team of food safety experts help companies more effectively mitigate risk, improve operational efficiencies, and ensure regulatory and standards compliance. www.AchesonGroup.com

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