In a 2021 MotherJones article, Sinduja Rangarajan, Tom Philpott, Allison Esperanza, and Alexis Madrigal compiled and visualized 186 publicly available predictions about timelines for cultured meat (made primarily by cultured meat companies and a handful of researchers). I added 11 additional predictions ACE had collected, and 76 other predictions I found in the course of a forthcoming Rethink Priorities project.
Of the 273 predictions collected, 84 have resolved - nine resolving correctly, and 75 resolving incorrectly. Additionally, another 40 predictions should resolve at the end of the year and look to be resolving incorrectly. Overall, the state of these predictions suggest very systematic overconfidence. Cultured meat seems to have been perpetually just a few years away since as early as 2010 and this track record plausibly should make us skeptical of future claims from producers that cultured meat is just a few years away.
Here I am presenting the results of predictions that have resolved, keeping in mind they are probably not a representative sample of publicly available predictions, nor assembled from a systematic search. Many of these are so vaguely worded that it’s difficult to resolve them positively or negatively with high confidence. Few offer confidence ratings, so we can’t measure calibration.
Below is the graphic made in the MotherJones article. It is interactive in the original article.
The first sale of a ~70% cultured meat chicken nugget occured in a restaurant in Singapore on 2020 December 19th for S$23 (~$17 USD) for two nugget dishes, created by Eat Just at a loss to the company.
65 predictions made on cultured meat being available on the market or in supermarkets specifically can now be resolved. 56 were resolved negatively and in the same direction - overly optimistic (update: the original post said 52). None resolved negatively for being overly pessimistic. These could resolve differently depending on your exact interpretation but I don't think there is an order of magnitude difference in interpretations. The nine that plausibly resolved positively are listed below.
- In 2010 "At least another five to 10 years will pass, scientists say, before anything like it will be available for public consumption". (A literal reading of this resolves correct, even though one might interpret the meaning as a product will be available soon after ten years)
- Mark Post of Maastricht University & Mosa Meat in 2014 stated he “believes a commercially viable cultured meat product is achievable within seven years." (It’s debatable if the Eat Just nugget is commercially viable as it is understood to be sold at a loss for the company).
- Peter Verstate of Mosa Meat in 2016 predicted that premium priced cultured products should be available in 5 years (ACE 2017)
- Mark Post in 2017 "says he is happy with his product, but is at least three years from selling one" (A literal reading of this resolves correct, even though one might interpret the meaning as a product will be available soon after three years)
- Bruce Friedrich of the Good Food Institute in March 2018 predicted “clean-meat products will be available at a high price within two to three years”
- Unnamed scientists in December 2018 “say that you can buy it [meat in a laboratory from cultured cells] within two years."
- Aleph Farms in December 2018 saying their “product will not be commercially available for at least two years." (A literal reading of this resolves correct, even though one might interpret the meaning as a product will be available soon after two years)
- Kate Krueger, PhD, a cell biologist and the director of research for New Harvest said in January 2020"We're still probably a decade away from lab-grown hot wings, but cultured chicken nuggets and burgers might be available in the next two years"
- Eat Just claimed they would sell the chicken nugget that week in December 2020
Note that the companies above also made additional predictions that were incorrect. The predicted time ranges spanned a few days to 50 years and predicted cultured meat products on sale as early as 2008. The vast majority of the 113 outstanding predictions for cultured meat to come to market were only made in the last 3 years and refer to specific companies or non-chicken products. Basically, nobody in this dataset was correct at predicting cultured meat sales with a time horizon longer than seven years. Many with short time horizons were also wrong. Only 18 of these outstanding predictions have time horizons longer than 5 years, so the majority will be resolved by 2026.
Most of the other outstanding predictions concern market share, market size, production volume, unit prices, and producing specific types of meat. Three of the 28 predictions that cultured meat would reach price parity have resolved (negatively), with the majority of the rest predicting parity between 2024 and 2031. The other 20 predictions that resolved negatively expected mass production or various other meat types to be produced by now.
In comparison, the community forecasts on Metaculus imply some partially cultured meat products (made of at least 20% cultured meat) will be sold at $3 per 100 grams or cheaper 2022-2027, but predict higher percentage cultured meat products being cost-competitive and sold in restaurants/supermarkets from 2024 (with wide and non-normal distributions).
A sample of Metaculus questions on cultured meat sales
This essay is a project of Rethink Priorities.
It was written by Neil Dullaghan. Thanks to Peter Wildeford and Linch Zhang for their extremely helpful feedback. Any mistakes are my own.
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