The first cell-cultured meat will cost about $50

The cost of meat.
The cost of meat.
Image: AP Photo/Larry Crowe
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The burger will probably go for $50 a pop, but can you really put a price on the experience of being one of the first people in the world to literally taste the future?

On April 15, Bruce Friedrich ascended a stage in Vancouver, Canada to give a TED Talk to a packed room about how cell-cultured meats might one day feed the global population the meat it craves, only grown from cells in bioreactors, without all the environmental degradation that comes with raising and slaughtering livestock.

This is all stuff that Friedrich—the executive director of the Good Food Institute, a non-profit organization that supports cell-cultured meat startups and sometimes lobbies on their behalf—has said before. What is new is that, in an interview after his speech, he estimated a price for the first bites of cell-cultured meat products when they debut into restaurants. Friedrich attached the $50 price tag to a burger, but he added in a later interview that the first meat could just as easily be chicken, fish, or something else.

“Since the process is the same for all of it, I’ll be surprised if there is a significant price differential depending on species,” Friedrich says.

He said he thinks cell-cultured meats will become available in limited spots in 2020, though at least one Silicon Valley startup, JUST, has said it will get a product to market even sooner.

The price of cell-cultured meat depends on a company’s ability to produce a lot of it. The process was much more expensive in the early stages, when the work was being done in laboratories and under microscopes. But now companies are starting to move out of the physical laboratory and are beginning to use more automated systems.

In 2013, Mark Post, a Dutch scientist and the co-founder of Mosa Meats, became the first person in the world to make a cell-cultured beef burger. The process he used was really expensive, taking three lab technicians about three months to nurture the 20,000 fibers of the burger, according to AgFunder News. That pound of lab-made beef would have cost $1.2 million per pound to sell. In the years following, that number has plummeted. In March 2017, Memphis Meats told the Wall Street Journal that it’d gotten the price of a pound of cell-cultured chicken down to $9,000 per pound. A year later its CEO announced the price had dropped to below $1,000 per pound. And in early 2019, the Israeli-based company Aleph Farms told reporters they’d gotten a beef patty down to around $100 per pound.