TechKNOW Tomorrow – Cell-based Meat: REAL Meat Grown in a Lab

Image by Adobe via Science Focus.

Say goodbye to plant-based meat alternatives like tofu, seitan and lentils; the next evolution in ethical meat is almost here. Finally, scientists have found a way to create a “meat alternative” that actually tastes like the meats many of us enjoy.

Cell-based meat, also known as cultured meat, “is genuine animal meat (including seafood and organ meats) that is produced by cultivating animal cells directly“. How is this done exactly? More importantly, what kinds of effects could this have on various animals – including humans – as well as the environment? Let’s dive into this controversial topic.

The Origins of Cell-based Meat

For centuries, animal cruelty has been a point of contention between supporters and critics of the food, fashion, and beauty industries. While we may benefit from many of the products developed by global leaders in these industries, the animals involved in product testing and factory farming unfortunately live in abhorrent conditions before their lives end.

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur via Unsplash.

For example, “99% of animals used for food live on massive industrial “factory farms,” where they’re crammed by the thousands into wire cages, metal crates, or other extremely restrictive enclosures inside filthy, windowless sheds“. These animals never have the chance to experience the freedom of outdoor living, play, and socialization that they would otherwise be accustomed to. Even worse, many animals experience pain and suffering before they are killed and processed for their meat.

Thankfully, there might be a solution on the horizon thanks to the research into cell-based meat. Back in 2013, the world’s first cultured hamburger was created in a lab in London. Using muscle cells from a cow, as well as in-vitro regenerative tissue technology, a burger was created in a petri dish without having to slaughter an animal. Only problem – over €250,000 was spent to make it (approximately $360,500 Canadian)!

Since then, the price to produce beef patties has dropped significantly – it’s estimated that producing a beef patty this way costs about $13 Canadian! Additionally, many startups are starting to look at creating all types of meats this way, including various seafood, poultry, and red meats.

That said, it’s still going to take some time before cell-based meats can reach the market.

Benefits of Cell-based Meats

It’s estimated that the world’s population will rise to about 9.9 billion by 2050. In a world where access to food is increasingly difficult today, this estimate is alarming. Many countries are currently suffering from a food crisis; by 2050, it will only get worse without some human ingenuity supported by modern technology.

This is a great reason why cultured meat will be beneficial once it’s available on the mass market. The animals on our planet are a limited resource. Think about all of the species that go extinct due to human interference. Cell-based meat would offer an excellent substitute for the demand for animals, and it could potentially support efforts to feed countries across the world.

Image by Aaron Burden via Unsplash.

As we saw above, cultured meat will also preserve the lives of numerous animals and cut down on the need for hunting, factory farming, and potentially even poaching. This would allow endangered animal populations to recover and for ecosystems to once again flourish.

One other major benefit of cell-based meat is how it would eventually affect the climate. Cell-based meats are “expected to use less water and land and may produce fewer overall greenhouse gases, assuming the world makes the transition to clean, renewable energy sources“.

On the other hand, “cultured meat faces serious challenges with cost reduction, scale-up and regulatory approval, and no lab-grown meat product has yet reached the market“. Not to mention the fact that there may be religious concerns regarding whether meat is considered kosher or halal. In other words, whether cultured meats can be permitted under Jewish and Islamic law.

Ultimately, we’ll have to wait and see if cell-based meats eventually become an affordable and safer alternative to traditional meat products. Based on the growth of plant-based meats in recent years, as well as the focus on the environment, cultured meat definitely has a lot of potential for positive change.

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