Empty ponds: will we soon be eating lab-grown fish?

13.03.2020

Our appetite for fish remains constant. At the same time, stocks worldwide are depleted – a problem that could soon be resolved in a test tube, according to GDI researcher Christine Schäfer.

Labor Fisch

The following text is based on an excerpt from the current "European Food Trends Report", available on our website.

Our appetite for fish is big. Too big: 90 percent of global fish stocks are exhausted or already overfished. And aquacultures pose similar risks to large-scale livestock farming on land: there is little space for many animals, resulting in precarious hygiene and resulting infections. Antibiotics are used against these, which in turn end up in water sources. 

Currently, start-ups around the world are working desperately to find  new solutions. One of the most promising is that of fish from  test tubes. And it could go into mass production faster than the much-discussed laboratory meat, because the texture of fish is easier to reproduce. And production costs are lower because fish are cold-blooded. The temperature in the cell cultures does not have to be constantly artificially raised, eliminating additional energy costs. 

Economic aspects are also decisive for the rapid development. The market for fish, especially in Asia, is huge and little regulated. Hong Kong start-up Avant Meat, for example, specialises in the production of fish bubbles from the laboratory. It is impossible to imagine traditional Chinese cuisine without them and they are comparatively easy to produce: In contrast to a steak, for example, which contains muscle, fat cells and connective tissue, the fish bladder consists of only one cell type. Avant Meat succeeded in cultivating a fish bladder in just one and a half months.

Despite the great potential of seafood alternatives, most companies and investors did not have them on their radar for a long time. This is changing. Laboratory salmon company Wild Type, succeeded in raising 3.5 million in seed capital in March 2018. The financing round was led by Spark Capital, an investor who also invested in Twitter, Tumbler and Slack from the very beginning. 

Many consumers have concerns about fish from test tubes, as they do with laboratory meat. Various studies have demonstrated that scepticism is particularly great with regard to taste and health. So before we accept laboratory meat and fish on our plates, a great deal of work must  be done.