Cultured Meat: The Future of Food
Some day, your next burger may come from the lab, not the farm
Written by Emily Chow, University of Alberta Student in the Nutrition and Food Science program at the University of Alberta and reviewed by our Health Stand Nutrition Dietitian Team
What is Cultured Meat?
Cultured meat is becoming one of the biggest revolutions in the food industry. It is lab-grown meat made from a few real animal cells. This process does not require slaughtering animals like conventional meat. Some Experts believe this is the future of more environmentally-friendly and ecologically-friendly meat production. Currently, companies are working to improve products at lower costs. Lab-grown meat is not currently available in the US or Canada, but experts believe it’ll be on grocery store shelves in the next 5 years. However, it may not be a strong competitor against conventional meat food for at least 25 years. Some cultured meat companies include JUST, Aleph Farms, and Future Fields (an Edmonton Alberta-based company!)
How is Cultured Meat Made?
Stem cells are basic cells in humans and animals that can be developed into different types of cells. Stem cells are carefully removed from a living animal under anesthesia. These stem cells are put into a bioreactor device to add nutrients, vitamins, amino acids and other growth factors. The stem cells multiply and can produce different types of cells. These cells can become the final meat product, including chicken nuggets, burger patties and steak.
Potential Benefits of Cultured Meat
Conventional meat is responsible for using a substantial amount of natural resources including land, water and energy. The AT Kearney firm predicts that by 2040, 60% of meat production will be from non-conventional processes (e.g. cultured meat). Studies have shown that compared to conventional meat, cultured meat consumed 7-45% lower energy use, 78-96% lower greenhouse gas, 99% lower land use and 82-96% lower water use.
Foodborne illness may be less likely to happen compared to conventional meat. Cultured meat does not have the same opportunity to meet pathogens including E.coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter, as conventional meat can. Lab-grown meat does not use animals that are raised in small spaces, so there is no risk of an outbreak of diseases. There are also stricter quality control measures.
Cells are extracted by animals under anesthesia, so they only feel mild discomfort. This procedure only takes a few minutes and presents a low risk of long-term problems. There are also fewer animals used, compared to conventional farming.
Less antibiotic resistance
Conventional meat may require the use of antibiotics as discussed here in this article. Using fewer antibiotics means we can potentially protect against the resistance of certain drugs to ensure they work for managing infections. The lab-grown meat process does not require the use of antibiotics due to the nature of the environment they are produced in.
Potential Concerns About Cultured Meat
Is cultured meat real meat?
Cultured meat is real animal flesh, it is not artificial meat. It consists of real animal muscle cells, fat cells and blood vessels. Cultured meat is just produced in the lab, not at a farm.
Is cultured meat vegan?
This is one of the top questions about cultured meat. It is still an animal product, so it is not vegan. Since many people become vegetarian for animal welfare reasons, it could be a potential alternative to consuming conventional meat.
Is cultured meat Kosher or Halal?
- Religion is another ethical concern that arises. Kosher meat is meat that has been ritually slaughtered by a trained individual (Sochet). The slaughter area must be blessed and the blood must be removed by soaking the meat. Halal meat is meat that has been ritually slaughtered by a Muslim. “In the name of Allah” must be stated before slaughtering and just like Kosher meat, the blood must be completely drained from the meat.
- Some argue that since no animal slaughter is involved, the meat can be considered halal or kosher. In 2017, Dr. Mohammad Naqib Hamdan and Dr. Mark Post concluded that cultured meat can be considered halal or kosher if the stem cells come from a halal slaughtered animal, with no blood used in the process.
How much does cultured meat cost?
Compared to traditional meat, production costs of lab-grown meat are very high. The first-ever lab-grown burger was produced by Mark Post, at a London Press conference at a cool US$330,000. Many cultured meat companies are trying to make these costs lower to compete with conventional meat, which may take a few years to achieve.
Is cultured meat healthy?
You’re probably wondering if cultured meat is healthy. The health of cultured meat depends on how it is processed. Cultured meat may be potentially modified to make it healthier than conventional meat. The fat and cholesterol content can be controlled and adjusted. But at the same time, some essential nutrients may not be present if nutrients are adjusted in the lab.
With any new technology or process, there is always going to be some hesitation and backlash. The current attitude towards lab-grown meat is very mixed. One survey found that about ⅔ of respondents would try cultured meat. However, fewer people were less willing to eat it regularly. Most people agreed that cultured meat is unnatural, less appealing and less tasty, but many also agreed that it would be a possible alternative to conventional meat.
Cultured meat is a fascinating yet controversial process that is evolving every year, one step closer to having it on our dinner plates. Scientists have progressed impressively since the first lab-grown burger in 2013. The public perception of cultured meat is very wide. There are potential benefits, yet there are also potential concerns.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below if you’d try cultured meat when it becomes available?
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