Higher steaks as Israeli company makes first lab-cultivated rib-eye cut

Aleph Farms claims its printed meat has all the flavor and texture a butcher can offer but without harming animals, opening the way for sustainable food production

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A rib-eye steak produced from meat cells cultivated in a laboratory by Israeli start-up Aleph Farms. (Courtesy: Aleph Farms/Technion Institute of Technology)
A rib-eye steak produced from meat cells cultivated in a laboratory by Israeli start-up Aleph Farms. (Courtesy: Aleph Farms/Technion Institute of Technology)

An Israeli company announced Tuesday that it has made the world’s first laboratory cultivated rib-eye steak complete with all the flavor and texture of regular meat, minus the harm to animals.

Aleph Farms, in a joint statement with the Technion Institute of Technology, said its unique three-dimensional bioprinting technique had produced a steak with “attributes of a delicious tender, juicy ribeye steak you’d buy from the butcher.”

The company claimed it is able to grow “delicious beef steaks” from non-genetically engineered cells that have been isolated from a cow, and that the method uses far fewer resources than required to raise an entire animal for meat and without the need for antibiotics.

Aleph now has the ability “to produce any type of steak and plans to expand its portfolio of quality meat products,” it said.

CEO and co-founder of Aleph Farms, Didier Toubia (Courtesy)

Two years ago Aleph Farms cultivated a thin steak using a similar method but without the 3D printing. The new technology allowed the creation of a thicker product.

“We recognize some consumers will crave thicker and fattier cuts of meat,” said Didier Toubia, co-founder and CEO of Aleph Farms, in the statement. “This accomplishment represents our commitment to meeting our consumer’s unique preferences and taste buds, and we will continue to progressively diversify our offerings.”

He said the goal is “fulfilling our vision of leading a global food system transition toward a more sustainable, equitable and secure world.”

The bioprinting technology uses “natural building blocks of meat” developed from real cow cells, which are then encouraged to grow, differentiate, and interact to obtain the texture and qualities of a real steak.

The process involves no genetic engineering or immortalization — a method that causes cells to reproduce indefinitely. In addition, the method for cultivating the cells does not use serums derived from slaughtered animals, the company noted.

“We have broken the barriers to introducing new levels of variety into the cultivated meat cuts we can now produce,” said Technion Faculty of Biomedical Engineering Professor Shulamit Levenberg, who is Aleph’s chief scientific adviser. “As we look into the future of 3D bioprinting, the opportunities are endless.”

Swabs are taken from two cows and grown in incubators, named Alberto and Gertrude after the donor cows, the Daily Mail reported.

Prof. Shulamit Levenberg, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Aleph Farms. (Courtesy: Aleph Farms)

Four different types of cells are produced — support cells, fat cells, blood cells and muscle cells — which are then used to make the “ink” for the printing process.

Toubia told the Mail that the thin-cut steaks first produced in 2018 will be available in some restaurants next year, with previous estimates putting put the price tag at $50.

No price has been set for the rib-eye steak. Aleph expects it will take two to three years before the technology has advanced to a point where the meat will be available commercially.

A Vegan Society spokesperson told the Mail that any technology that reduces animal suffering is welcome, but noted that the Aleph Farms product does not qualify as vegan because it still uses cells taken from an animal.

“We understand there could be huge environmental benefits of cultivated meat,” the spokesperson said. “However, the debate about whether this is the future of food could be seen as a distraction from the real issue of promoting plant-based diets as a valid solution here and now.”

A rib-eye steak produced from meat cells cultivated in a laboratory by Israeli start-up Aleph Farms. (Courtesy: Aleph Farms/Technion Institute of Technology)

Aleph Farms was founded by the Strauss Group Israeli food giant and Levenberg. Last month Aleph Farms signed an accord with Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation’s Food Industry Group to bring cultivated meat to the Japanese table.

The Israeli firm has set up similar partnerships with other multinationals: Migros, the Swiss industrial group, and US-based food corporation Cargill have also invested in the startup.

Last June Aleph Farms was among six Israeli companies named by the World Economic Forum (WEF) as the 100 Technology Pioneers for 2020.

Growing cows for meat has been found to have one of the largest negative impacts on the global environment, and reducing meat consumption is necessary to cut gas emissions and avoid climate change, a study in the journal Nature showed. Some 56 billion animals — cows, sheep, chickens and pigs — are slaughtered every year to feed the world, and consumption of meat is set to grow 70% by 2050 as middle classes in Asia and Africa join the trend, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Shoshanna Solomon contributed to this report.

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