GERMANY, Darmstadt. Back in 2018, there were reports that Merck was dabbling in lab-grown meat, including taking a stake in start-up Mosa Meat, for example. In an interview with Hessenschau, the Group innovation leader now spoke about the state of progress.
German pharmaceutical and chemical company Merck has been tinkering with technologies needed to produce cultured meat and fish for about three years. Merck wants to profit from this as a technology provider for start-ups. The company offers reagents and equipment for cell cultivation such as cell culture media. About 70 to 80 start-ups from the US and Europe are working on lab meat, Thomas Herget, Head of Merck's Innovation Hubs in California and China, says.
Merck supplies some with cell culture media that the cells need to grow. They consist of up to 100 substances such as sugar molecules, salts, amino acids and trace elements. All of them must be procured, analyzed, sterilized and optimally assembled. Cell culture media currently account for up to 80% of the cost of cultured meat, Herget said.
"In the future, the meat market could be divided into three," believes Herget. One-third could be conventional meat from slaughter, one-third plant-based and one coming from bioreactors. When asked by the Hessenschau, Herget explained that the cultured meat would be available in supermarkets in 5 to 10 years - provided the current progress is maintained. A major hurdle at the moment is the scale with which cultured meat is produced. Production is not yet ready for mass distribution.
Herget sees different product variants in the future. Initially, he says, there will only be cell mass, which can be used, for example, to produce chicken meat in the form of chicken nuggets or even burger patties. The ultimate goal, however, is to produce steak. However, the structure makes this very difficult to produce.
"In fact, however, we are currently testing the possibility of using a screen-printing process, i.e. a large-scale technical process, to produce structured meat in a three-year program together with the Technical University of Darmstadt," Herget told Hessenschau.
In any case, Herget believes in the success of lab meat.