Cultured meat, also known as lab-grown meat, has emerged as an alternative to conventional animal meat, addressing the need for sustainable food production due to a growing global population. Read more to learn if cultured meat is the future. You'll discover how lab-grown meat is produced, its possible advantages, and some disadvantages.
Cultured meat can offer a sustainable meat alternative, although research on its overall impact remains inconclusive.
While cultured meat can reduce slaughter, a small number of animals still would be needed for cell extraction.
Cultured meat could minimize pathogens and antibiotic resistance and offer healthier fat profiles, though its long-term health impact is still unknown.
Collaboration between FDA and USDA-FSIS ensures cultured meat's safety and compliance, from cell collection to final product.
How is cultured meat produced?
Cultured meat is produced from skeletal muscle cells taken from a living animal. Cells are increased in numbers under proper laboratory settings, then grown cell masses are processed to create the final product. The process of producing cultured meat involves:
- Cell isolation. Biopsy of skeletal muscle cells taken from a living animal without harming or killing it.
- Cell culturing. Cells are placed in a nutrient-rich medium in a bioreactor. The medium should supply the necessary nutrients for cells to grow.
- Tissue formation. Over time, cells multiply and turn into a mass that is muscle tissue that resembles the structure of conventional meat.
- Harvesting. The muscle tissue mass is processed to be various cultured meat and its products.
Is cultured meat the future?
Currently, in the U.S., no cultured meat or its products are available for sale.
Scientists and companies in the field aim to increase acceptance and consumption of cultured meat to decrease traditional animal farming, thus, animal slaughter. Cultured meat can also allow sustainable meat consumption.
Cultured meat can be the future because it can contribute to sustainability, food security, health, animal welfare, and the environment.
May contribute to sustainability
Humans meet their needs with supplies from the natural environment. Sustainability aims to create a future where humans and nature can still coexist, so humans can survive.
Some argue that cultured meat is more sustainable than conventional meat, which is debatable because research is not conclusive on cultured meat's effects on health, safety, and the environment.
Might improve animal welfare
Some scientists and animal advocates see cultured meat as cruelty-free meat.
Although cell-cultured meat will decrease animal slaughter, animals will still be needed to extract stem cells that are turned into meat. Fewer animals would be required to produce lots of meat. Therefore, cultured meat can improve animal welfare to a degree.
Can be safer and healthier
Some claim that cultured meat is safer than conventional meat because it's produced in a controlled laboratory setting. Therefore, it'd be free from common intestinal pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella, or Campylobacter.
Additionally, cultured meat can be antibiotic free. Livestock are given antibiotics to stop infection; thus, antibiotic resistance is an issue. Cultured meat can be monitored for infection and contamination of pathogens unless antibiotics are used to prevent contamination.
Fatty acid profiles of cultured meat can be manipulated. Companies can create cultured meat that has lower saturated fatty acids and add healthy fats such as omega-3 to meat.
Still, researchers don't fully know how cultured meat can affect public health because it's a relatively new product.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) are working together with companies to create cultured foods from animal cells.
The agencies ensure the safety and lawfulness of these products. The FDA inspects cell collection, banks, growth, and differentiation, while USDA-FSIS oversees the stages of cell culture harvesting.
Shows potential to protect the environment
Cultured meat is considered more environmentally friendly than conventional meat, based on the belief that cultured meat production emits a lower amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) and demands less water and land for production. The research is inconclusive.
Challenges facing cultured meat production
There are challenges that cultured meat production faces:
The cost of producing cultured meat involves cell culture media, growth factors, bioreactors, labor, facilities, and regulatory compliance. Although advances in technology and scalability can impact production costs, producing cultured meat now is costly.
As production processes become more efficient and scale up, the cost of cultured meat could decrease, making it more cost-effective than traditional meat production.
Products have to gain consumer acceptance. No matter how brilliant a product is, it's unlikely to be consumed widely if the consumer doesn't accept it.
Cultured meat can face consumer resistance in several areas, including religion, naturalness, and taste. For example, whether cultured meat is kosher or halal is still debated.
Consumers tend to resist cultured meat because they think it's unnatural, thus unhealthy. It's likely that consumers can gradually accept cultured meat if their trust is earned by control and regulations.
Taste can be a major determinant for many people. It can be an issue that cultured meat won't meet the sensory qualities of conventional meat.
In the quest for sustainable food solutions, cultured meat holds promise for ethical consumption and environmental preservation despite challenges like cost and consumer acceptance that need to be solved.
- FDA. Human Food Made with Cultured Animal Cells.
- Animal Frontiers. Is “cultured meat” a viable alternative to slaughtering animals and a good comprise between animal welfare and human expectations?
- Frontiers in Nutrition. The Myth of Cultured Meat: A Review.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Learn About Sustainability.