Hydroponics, but Meat? Start-Up Pilots Cultivated Pork Facility

Fork and Good hydro foot in a white bowl

(Credit: Fork and Good)

by | Mar 22, 2023

Fork and Good hydro foot in a white bowl

(Credit: Fork and Good)

Fork & Good, the brainchild of a farmer and a scientist, launched a pilot facility for producing cultivated pork, promising high yields at an affordable price. The start-up is backed by $22 million from investors such as True Ventures, Leaps by Bayer, Collaborative Fund, Firstminute, Green Monday, and Starlight.

If the company can prove their cultivated meat can compete on cost with traditional meat, the environmental benefits are exceptional. In a study from the Good Food Institute, cultivated meat produces less pollution and prevents disease risk in animals. Animal agriculture is responsible for 15% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as well as the use of 70% of agricultural land. This land often experiences significant deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution.

On the other hand, cultivated meat is grown in a lab by taking a sample of animal cells and then growing them in a controlled environment. Fork & Good claims a novel approach to this technique. Armed with a patent for a large-scale cell culture system, their method grows muscle cells – instead of stem cells – directly in proprietary bioreactors for increased flavor and nutritional value.

“Making cultivated meat does not require fundamentally new science. Increasing yield at scale requires true innovation,” said Gabor Forgacs, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Fork & Good. “That’s why we’ve focused so much on the process, patenting an approach that is both innovative and economically sound.”

So, What Does This “New Method” Cost?

According to an analysis of the patent by cell biologist Bianca Le, this bioreactor system eliminates the need for expensive animal-derived serums. The patented design also greatly reduces the need for exogenous growth factors, another primary cost driver for cultivated meat.

The cost to produce cultivated meat currently soars above the price of traditionally factory-farmed meat, meaning the method is more of a futuristic experiment than a grocery store purchase. However, one 2021 analysis by McKinsey estimates that roughly 75% of costs can be eliminated through increased scale and streamlined manufacturing processes. Once the initial research and development costs subside, another almost 25% could be eliminated. This means the price per pound could plummet from the inaccessible $1000s to a competitive $5, similar to the average cost of a pound of traditional ground meat.

“Achieving high yields at an affordable price point is incredibly complex, and Fork & Good is uniquely equipped for the task,” said Adam D’Augelli, True Ventures partner. “Its Jersey City facility can produce six to ten times more pork per square foot than would be possible using traditional farming methods, with far less water and minimal impact on the surrounding ecosystem.”

Fork & Good will initially focus on ground pork, with the aim to later expand to a wider range of meats. The company must first prove it can solve their density problem – more meat, made from less feedstock, in as small an area as possible. This is where co-founder Niya Gupta’s expertise in hydroponics is their secret weapon. She previously ran an urban farming startup, ComCrop in Singapore, that mastered growing large volumes of produce in a small space through hydroponics.

“From my experience in hydroponics, it became clear that low yield was the reason cultivated meat was so expensive,” noted Niya. “We measure yield by feed conversion in livestock, and it was too low in cultivated meat. Our feed conversion is already close to that for pigs, and we’re on track to be better.”

Potential for Growth & Expansion? 

Fork & Good’s website celebrates that their current demonstration facility is the size of a studio apartment. This tiny area is able to supply the average meat demand for 15 families a year, which is four times the yield of a traditional hog pen of the same size.

“To sustainably feed 10 billion people by 2050, we need to prioritize the development of alternative protein sources that are both nutritious and affordable at scale, using a fraction of the resources required today. We’re excited to see Fork and Good making progress toward this vision,” said Juergen Eckhardt, SVP and head of Leaps by Bayer.

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