Lab grown meat has been all over the news recently. But what exactly is it? And what are the benefits?
This article will cover:
- What is lab grown meat?
- How is lab grown meat made?
- What are the concerns with lab grown meat?
- What are the benefits of lab grown meat?
- Recent news about lab grown meat
- Lab grown meat brands
What is lab grown meat?
Scientists and researchers are developing new ways to produce meat without the negative environmental and social concerns of traditional meat production. 70 billion land animals and trillions of marine animals are killed each year to feed humanity's unsustainable demand for meet. According to the UN, animal agriculture contributes 14.5% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. If people continue consuming meat at the rate at which they do, the planet will not be able to sustain it. Veganism is the best choice to save animals and the planet, but some people will never stop consuming meat. Also, meat is often a big part of family traditions and culture making it harder to simply eliminate from all diets. Lab grown meat is a new way to consume meat without harming animals or the environment. It could be the key to our broken food system. In short, lab grown meat works by extracting cells from living animals and then allowing those cells to grow into meat. Unlike plant-based meat alternatives, lab grown meat is actual meat. Plant-based meat replicates the taste and texture of meat without using any animal products through a variety of processes like fermentation. Impossible Meat and Beyond Meat are popular plant-based meat brands. With lab grown meat, the only difference with conventional meat is how it gets to your plate, but it has the same animal cells as what we consider “meat.” It isn’t technically vegan because it contains cells from real living animals. But in truth, vegans and vegetarians aren’t the target market. Lab grown meat is designed to appeal to omnivorous consumers. It is meant to wean committed meat-eaters off traditional sources.
Other names for lab grown meat include:
- Lab made meat
- Cultured meat
- Synthetic meat
- Cell-cultured meat
- Cultivated meat
- Cell-based meat
- Clean meat
How is lab grown meat made?
Lab grown meat is cultivated by harvesting a small sample of cells from a living animal and then placing this cell sample in growth cultures outside the animal's body and then once fully formed, shaped into cuts of meat. First, to take the stem cells from the living animal, the animal is placed under anesthesia to biopsy the needed cells. A small number of muscle cells are carefully removed from the living animal. The animal experiences only a momentary twinge of discomfort, not unlike getting a routine blood test at the doctor. This prick is much less painful than the slaughterhouse. Animals are still needed at this time for their cells, but the numbers are far fewer, and the harm is much lesser. Next, the cells are placed into a growth serum in a petri dish. The goal of this step is to trick the cells into thinking they are still inside the animal to ensure their growth. Once the cell sample has multiplied into trillions of cells, the growth factors are removed. Following this, muscle cells are placed into a concentration of 99% water where the cells naturally contract. This causes them to grow and mutate into smaller strands of muscle fibers. Finally, the muscle tissue is shaped into meat like steak, chicken nuggets, hamburger patties, or salmon sashimi.
What are the concerns with lab grown meat?
Lab grown meat is still in the research phase, so it is hard to know the long-term health and environmental benefits. It may seem off-putting or unhealthy, but labs are only involved now to help with research and development. Once these products are produced at scale, companies will swap out labs for facilities that resemble microbreweries. Synthetic meat gives off the idea that this product is shock full of chemicals and additives, which could be concerning to health-conscious consumers. But this is not necessarily the case. There is no proven evidence that lab grown meat is damaging to human health. While there are concerns over potential chemicals in the cultures, there is also potential for reduced risk of chemicals and disease associated with conventional livestock conditions. Another concern is that some lab grown meat contains an animal by-product known as fetal bovine serum. Slaughterhouses obtain fetal bovine serum by collecting blood from the unborn calves of pregnant cows after they’re killed. The first lab grown meat product to hit the market, “Eat Just,” used what they considered “low levels” of this serum in their chicken. In response to consumer concerns, they are developing an alternative recipe. Price is also a significant concern. Lab grown meat is significantly more expensive than conventional meat right now. The first lab-made hamburger was created in 2012, and it cost about $325,000 to produce. But as technology advances, the cost to produce cultured meat should continue to decrease. Another concern has been how to market and regulate this product.
What are the benefits of lab grown meat?
Lab grown meat has significant health and environmental benefits, with uncompromising flavor and texture. No animals must be constrained and killed for this product. Traditionally, getting meat means breeding an animal, sending it to the slaughterhouse, and then packaging it up to sell. With lab grown meat, you can eat meat that tastes and looks the same, yet without harming animals or the planet. Compared to conventional beef, lab-grown beef requires 45% less energy use, 99% less land use, and produces 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions. It has a significantly lower carbon footprint than even the most “sustainably- raised” meat products. There is much higher material efficiency with lab grown meat as well. In fact, cells taken from a single cow can produce an astonishing 175 million quarter-pounder burgers. To put this in perspective, a typical factory farm would need to raise and kill 440,000 cows to produce the same amount of product. Another benefit of lab grown meat is that it can be much healthier than conventional meat. Lab grown meat offers the same amount of protein as conventional meat. And it doesn’t contain the same growth hormones and saturated fats associated with factory farmed meat. Growth hormones are used to boost the growth of farmed animals, but they are linked to developmental, neurobiological genotoxic, and carcinogenic effects. Lab grown meat contains none of these nasty growth hormones. Scientists can control the quantities of cholesterol and fat in each cut. It also requires fewer antibiotics. Factory farmed meat overuses antibiotics to keep animals alive in filthy conditions. This leads to antibiotic resistance for individuals that eat meat. Thousands of people die each year from antibiotic resistant infections. Lab grown meat provides a way for people to continue consuming the meat they love and know, but without all the associated environmental, animal, and health concerns.
Recent news about lab grown meat
As lab grown meat nears the end of its research phase, media coverage of the topic has spiked. Investors and business leaders are preparing for lab grown meat to enter the market. In 2020, Singapore was the first country to approve lab grown meat. Eat Just chicken was the first lab grown meat product in Singapore, making it also the first to meet the public market. There has been growing concern for how these products will be labeled, marketed, and regulated. Thankfully, plant-based, and alternative meat companies have already been facing these industry challenges head-on and winning. In 2021, the vegan dairy company Miyoko’s Creaming won a lawsuit against the powerful dairy lobby. When the state of California tried to prevent the company from using terms like “butter” and “cheese” to describe their products, Miyoko’s fought back. The case was taken to the federal court where they ruled in favor of Miyoko stating that gatekeeping these terms violated Miyoko’s freedom of speech. This is huge news because it means that lab grown meat companies can cite this case when facing likely legal labeling battles. Aside from labeling, regulation has been of concern. Currently, The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates meat and its production while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees food safety, dairy, produce, and packaged foods, including imitation meat products. In 2019, the FDA and USDA agreed that they will jointly oversee the regulation of cellular meat products. A big topic of debate has been how Bill Gates is supporting the movement. Gates is buying up farmland, mostly beef and dairy farms, across the US in hopes of decreasing the market supply for conventional livestock products. He now owns about 242,00 acres of farmland. Gates insists synthetic meat is a necessary strategy to address climate change and is calling for a complete transition from meat to lab grown meat. Gates also co-founded the plant-based meat startup Impossible Foods. Jeff Bezos has also jumped on the movement and is investing undisclosed amounts of money in lab grown meat. Bezos is also urging Americans to switch to 100% synthetic beef. Other celebrities and private investors are also making sizable investments. Leonardo DiCaprio invested in cell-based meat companies Aleph Farms and Mosa Meat. Ashton Kutcher has partnered with MeaTech, a company developing 3D bioprinting that can print cuts of cell-based meat. Another exciting headline has been the announcement of a new film about lab grown meat called “Meat the Future.” Jane Goodall signed on to narrate this new film! The movie follows the startup Upside Foods over the course of five years. We can’t wait to watch it! According to a new study published in the scientific journal Foods, 89% of Gen Z adults in the United States and the United Kingdom are at least open to trying lab-grown meat. Shockingly, other generations are not far behind in terms of support. The study also found that 84% of Millennials, 76% of Gen X, and 70% of Boomers are also open to trying cellular meat.
Lab grown meat brands
Start-ups are developing lab grown meat products and some have already previewed products to the public. As the research phase ends, their products will be hitting grocery stores near you soon. Check out these labs grown meat startups!
Eat Just: Eat Just is the maker of GOOD Meat lab-grown chicken, the only cellular meat already on the market and being sold in Singapore. This California-based company also produces plant-based foods like the Just Egg. The new documentary “Meat the Future” with Jane Goodall follows this company's journey.
UPSIDE Foods: UPSIDE has produced cultured beef, chicken, and duck meat. Its investors include food giants Tyson Foods and Cargill. In 2021, they opened a major producing facility in California. The facility can currently produce 50,000 pounds of lab grown meat annually with plans to scale up to 400,000 pounds.
Mosa Meat: Based in the Netherlands, Mosa Meat is currently scaling up production of its lab-grown beef, and what it calls “the world’s kindest burger.” Mosa estimates their burgers will hit the market in 2023.
Wild Type: This cellular meat brand is based in California. They were the first brand in the world to produce salmon meat in their labs.
Shiok Meats: This Singapore-based company produces cell-based seafood, including shrimp, crab, and lobster. With its goal to reach consumer markets in 2022, Shiok Meats recently purchased another lab-grown meat company—Gaia Foods.
BlueNalu: Startup BlueNalu raised $60 million in early 2021 to build its factory and is developing lab-grown versions of Mahi Mahi and bluefin tuna. Considering that tuna have been pushed to the brink of extinction by overfishing, the introduction of cultivated tuna could have a huge impact on the health of our oceans.
Finless Foods: Silicon Valley startup Finless Foods is also producing lab-grown seafood, focusing on tuna. The company already makes plant-based tuna.
Bond Pet Food: Thanks to Bond Pet Food, even our beloved companion animals can try lab-grown meat. This company is starting out with cultured chicken pet food, intending to reduce the number of chickens who must suffer in factory farms for pet food products.