Cultured meat, sometimes called lab-grown, clean, or cultivated meat, is grown in a lab from a few animal cells. It’s real meat, but it doesn’t require animals to be slaughtered the way traditional meat does.
The idea is to create a more ecologically friendly and humane meat industry. Some industry experts think this process, called cellular agriculture, is the wave of the future. By the end of 2019, 55 companies worldwide were working on it.
But it’s still early days for cultured meat. It’s not clear yet just how healthy and cost-effective cultured meat will be, or whether it will taste good enough to entice people to buy it. It could be months or years before you see cultured meat on store shelves or in restaurants.
How is cultivated meat made?
The manufacturing process begins with acquiring and banking stem cells from an animal. These cells are then grown in bioreactors (known colloquially as cultivators) at high densities and volumes. Similar to what happens inside an animal’s body, the cells are fed an oxygen-rich cell culture medium made up of basic nutrients such as amino acids, glucose, vitamins, and inorganic salts, and supplemented with proteins and other growth factors.
Changes in the medium composition, often in tandem with cues from a scaffolding structure, trigger immature cells to differentiate into the skeletal muscle, fat, and connective tissues that make up meat. The differentiated cells are then harvested, prepared, and packaged into final products. This process is expected to take between 2-8 weeks, depending on what kind of meat is being cultivated. Some companies are pursuing a similar strategy to create milk and other dairy products.
Reasons why cultured meat is better:
1. Zero Animal Cruelty
Of the 70 billion animals farmed annually around the world, approximately 50 billion of them are factory farmed. These animals are treated more like cogs in a machine, than living, breathing, feeling animals. They endure short, miserable lives and are often crammed together in cages, crates, behavior, or pens where they are unable to engage in natural behaviour. Many animals are even selectively bred to be fast-growing; lameness, weakened or broken bones, infections, and organ failure are all commonplace. Clean meat has the potential to end the suffering of billions of farm animals every year.
2. Less saturated fat means people will live longer
Clean meat will be better for us, as producers will be able to choose exactly how much fat should be included in each burger, sausage, or steak. Clean meat producers may even be able to replace saturated fatty acids with healthier alternatives such as omega-3 fatty acids. We may soon see “no cholesterol” and “no saturated fats” varieties of popular foods on supermarket shelves.
3. It will eventually be cheaper than conventional meat
Clean meat is currently incredibly expensive to produce at over $2000 for a single pound of meat – people won’t pay $500 plus for a quarter pounder. We shouldn’t be too worried though – prototypes of anything, whether it be cars, mobile phones or plasma televisions are always incredibly expensive before becoming very affordable. When the first clean meat burger was created a few years ago, it cost more than 300,000 dollars. So, there’s already been a massive cost reduction, which is set to continue as clean meat companies work out how they can scale up production. Prices should eventually be comparable to conventional meat.
4. Global hunger could be reduced
Today, almost 11% of the planet’s 7.5 billion people suffer from undernourishment of which 821 million suffer from chronic hunger. If we can’t feed everyone now, we must take drastic action. Clean meat requires 99 percent less land and five times less water. Clean meat could allow many more people across the globe to access high-quality meat at a sustainably lower environmental cost.
5. Less environmental impact
As global demand for meat goes up, more forested land is converted into ranches and crop fields. Cultured meat requires much less land, uses less water, and produces less pollution.
Also, traditional beef production makes lots of methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide, so-called greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Lab-grown meat could reduce these emissions significantly.
Cultured meat may be available in India by 2025, which will allow meat consumers to enjoy animal products without killing or harming the animal. Humane Society International (HSI) India has joined hands with the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad for developing lab-grown meat in India.