The Truth About Lab-Grown Meat

Science has recently found a way to grow meat in a lab, entirely outside of an animal’s body. This is known as lab-grown meat or cultured meat. Cultured meat is meat produced by animal cells in vitro, instead of slaughtering animals. It is a form of cellular agriculture.

The main idea behind this futuristic thought of having lab-grown meat in your burger rather than the traditional one must be for two big reasons. One is saving animals from slaughtering and the other saving the planet from global warming. Because both of them contribute horrifically large numbers in terms of carbon emission into the environment. 

In 2013, researchers at a Dutch institute in London announced they had successfully made the world’s first lab-grown beef burger from the use of billions of cow cells. The man-made burger cost over $300,000 to produce at the time, according to the BBC.

Fast-forward to today, and lab-grown chicken nuggets have officially been approved to be sold at a restaurant in Singapore, a bit above the price of premium chicken, according to Reuters.

How lab-grown meat has been made?

As we can easily understand that meat grown in the lab is known as lab-grown meat, but a big and amazing question arises how it’s made in a lab. It is not like the traditional words you came across in your daily life like free-range, farm-raised, and cage-free, etc. 

Lab-grown meat starts with animal cells, typically muscle or fat cells, or stem cells that cultured to differentiate into muscle cells. These cells processed using the appropriate growth medium that contains nutrients that promote their growth and survival. To aid in the growth of culture as it begins to expand, edible scaffolding sometimes used. Finally, cells allowed to divide and expand until ready to use, all the while being monitored consistently for harmful bacterial contamination.

Take a cow for example. Initially, scientists use a cow’s stem cells, the building blocks of muscle and other organs, to begin the process of creating the cultured meat. The cells placed in vitro with amino acids and carbohydrates to help the muscle cells happy and multiply in a culture environment to promote their survival and continued growth.

Once enough muscle fibers have grown, the result is meat that resembles the conventional meat.

How lab-grown meat is different from traditional meat?

Here are the basic difference between lab-grown meat and traditional meat:

CriteriaLab-Grown MeatTraditional Meat
OriginIt is grown from the animal’s natural cells, keeping them in vitro i.e controlled lab environmentIt came directly from the slaughter of animals sacrificing their lives through livestock farming
Environmental ImpactComparatively more environmental friendly as it releases lesser greenhouse gasesHighly impact the environment negatively with the land occupancy and greenhouse gases emissions
EthicsA more ethical alternative as animal cells used in place of slaughterKilling animals for consumption raises ethical issues
Health EffectsPathogens and harmful additives could be minimized in lab-grown meatMay contain additives like growth hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals
Production CostDue to its process and demand, lab-grown meat is currently very expensive to produceTraditional meat is fairly affordable for an average person to buy 

Health benefits and concerns of lab-grown meat

Due to still ongoing research on lab-grown meat/cultured meat, it’s too soon to say whether it is good for health or bad. Adding to this, we can state that conventional meat has several health problems associated with it and is well documented, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain forms of cancer. 

  • Certainly, lab-grown meat may be good for health because the cells used to grow cultured meat don’t grow fat cells on their own. On the other hand, use stem cells made from muscle tissue. Fat has to be added to the lab-grown meat later, which means producers can control their fat profiles. 
  • It’s widely believed that cultured meat could eventually be engineered to have specific nutrient profiles and therefore intended health outcomes for consumers. Theoretically, this could mean altering the composition of essential amino acids, fat, vitamins, minerals, and bioactive compounds that are wrapped up in the end products. For example, a more optimized amino acid profile, higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, and lower levels of saturated fat, than conventional meat.
  • All of this is of course theoretical as of now. Mostly fiddling with nature, humans risk some big surprises. The best of intentions could lead to unanticipated consequences. So we should go through testing led by unbiased researchers, before releasing any newly fabricated “meat” product on large numbers of people. But it seems possible that, in comparison to conventional meat, lab meat could eventually have a net health benefit.

Health Concerns

  • There is another side of the coin too to consider. Traditional animal products are a major cause of foodborne illnesses, outbreaks, and food recalls. Bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli live in the guts of animals, which can be transmitted in the food system through fecal contamination. This poses huge food safety risks for consumers. Cultivated meat is safer alternative in this regard, as it produced in a sterile and controlled environment.
  • Another concern is the use of antibiotics used in factory farming. Currently, more than two-thirds of all the antibiotics used in the world given to livestock, not humans. This is turning our factory farms into breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten to take hundreds of millions of human lives by the end of this century. 
  • After all of these benefits and concerts, still the answer to the question “is lab-grown meat is good for health” is maybe. 

Does lab-grown meat benefit climate change?

  • According to a massive study published in the journal Science in 2018, Animal agriculture remains a giant global economic force. Meat and dairy provide 18% of the calories that humans consume. But their production uses 83% of global farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock agriculture is an enormous contributor to water usage and pollution. And it’s also one of the biggest threats to global biodiversity. Land clearance for agriculture destroys wild animal habitats and the green cover of the earth that ultimately can lead to species extinction and global warming.
  • On the contrary, lab-grown meat has the potential for growth with a high level of efficiency without slaughtering of animals, just by using their tiny muscle cells. Lab-grown food could, at least in theory, be more sustainable than existing animal agriculture that too without the production of methane, ammonia, manure, and other waste products. 
  • Future Meat Technologies says its cultured products will take up 99% less land, 96% less freshwater, and emit 80% lesser greenhouse gases than traditional meat production, according to its Life Cycle Assessment

Pros and cons of lab-grown meat

Lab-grown meat has both pros and cons, and it’s a topic of debate till now. A lot of research and experiment needed to get to some conclusion. Here are some pros and cons of lab-grown meat:

Pros

Space

According to reports, around 85% of the total land footprint came from animal farming. But with the lab-grown meat, 99% of the land could be saved. Comparatively, only 1% of land used for meat production.

Sustainability

Globally, consumers eat 346.14 million tons of meat every year, and according to Wire, Worldwide, livestock “may be responsible for 15% of greenhouse gas emissions, and switching to lab-grown meat would reduce these emissions by up to 96%.

Theoretically, it has been projected as the most possible solution to global warming and climate change that result to a reduction in deforestation for livestock purposes. We don’t have to cut down rainforests to plant crops to feed animals.

Animal welfare

Farm-based meat production does not support animal welfare. There is always a contradiction between thoughts on animal welfare in meat-producing companies.

Lab-grown meat could be an ethical and sustainable way for animal welfare. Animals do not slaughtered and overproduced for meat production. The animal becomes happy and well-nourished on earth, free from unnecessary pain.

Health Benefits

Lab-grown meat could reduce the risk of food-borne bacteria’s as well as diseases transmitted between live animals and humans. We have already seen the consequences of COVID-19. It all started with animals. Lab-grown meat manufactured with healthy additives like vitamins and minerals.

CONS

Unemployment

The livestock sector employs approximately 1.7 billion people in the world. If cultured meat overpowers and becomes the primary choice of meat lovers. it could be a reason for job losses.

Trust

People who are eating conventional meat for decades, it’s difficult for them to trust something just new in the market. They will compare the taste and cost of lab-grown meat with traditional meat. The cost could be acceptable to them but not taste.

Obesity

If in the future, lab-grown meat becomes cheaper and easier to mass-production than traditional meat. Researchers believe that it could encourage overconsumption, which could, in turn, increase obesity and related health issues.

Top 5 companies producing lab-grown meat now

Several companies are working on manufacturing lab-grown meat and seafood products to bring sustainability into the meat industry worldwide. Here’s a rundown of five well-known companies producing these products: 

  1.  Memphis Meats

Memphis Meats had the idea for cell-based meats and poultry products in 2005, and they finally launched in 2015. They created the world’s first cell-based meatball in 2016, with poultry following shortly after in 2017.

  1. Finless Foods

Finless Foods offers you sustainable seafood, without the catch. They are bringing sustainable seafood to your table.

  1. Meatable

Meatable is creating hamburgers from single animal cells, in a much faster, cleaner, and more sustainable way.

  1. SuperMeat

SuperMeat started through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. They’re working to create animal-friendly meat products in partnership with PHW-Gruppe, one of Europe’s largest poultry producers.

  1. Mosa Meat

Mosa Meat was the groundbreaking company responsible for the first lab-grown hamburger showcased in 2013. Their main goal is to bring cultured meat (or “clean meat” as they call it) to the mass market to help satisfy the growing demand for meat.

References: 

  1. “Full Stack Genome Engineering.” Synthego, URL 
  2. Staff, The Week. “The Pros and Cons of Lab-Grown Meat.” The Week UK, The Week, 30 Aug. 2018, URL
  3. “No-Kill, Lab-Grown Meat to Go on Sale for First Time.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 2 Dec. 2020 URL 
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