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What if there was a way to eat meat without farming and killing billions of animals per year, contributing to the climate crisis and risking high cholesterol levels?
“Cultivated meat is real meat grown directly from animal cells,” Uma Valeti, founder and CEO of Upside Foods, said via email. “These products are not vegan, vegetarian or plant-based — they are real meat, made without the animal.”
“The process of making cultivated meat is similar to brewing beer, but instead of growing yeast or microbes, we grow animal cells,” Valeti added.
Scientists start by taking a small cell sample from a livestock animal such as a cow or chicken, then identify cells that can multiply.
“From there, we put these cells in a clean and controlled environment and feed them with essential nutrients they need to replicate naturally,” Valeti said. “In essence, we can re-create the conditions that naturally exist inside an animal’s body.”
“It’s meat without slaughter,” said Christiana Musk, founder of Flourish*ink, in June 2022 at the Life Itself conference, a health and wellness event presented in partnership with CNN. Flourish*ink is a platform for curating and catalyzing conversations on the future of food.
Progressing from lab production to making products in commercial facilities, some companies are moving away from the term “lab-grown meat,” said a spokesperson for Mosa Meat, a Netherlands-based food technology company. Instead, these companies refer to it as cultivated meat, cultured meat, cell-based or cell-grown meat, or non-slaughter meat.
In addition to mitigating animal slaughter, cultivated meat could also help slow climate change driven by the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. The food system is responsible for about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, most of which are from animal agriculture. The transport needed for agriculture emits both methane and carbon dioxide, and clearing land and forests — including for agriculture — emits carbon dioxide, according to the United Nations.
“The presumption is we’re going to do better because of the sustainability element here — to reduce the land footprint, reduce the water needs and reduce some of the waste streams that go out from feedlots,” said David Kaplan, a professor of biomedical engineering at Tufts University. Waste streams containing carbon dioxide and methane are responsible for large flows of emissions into the atmosphere.
At this time, Singapore and the United States are the only countries to have approved cell-based meat for consumer consumption. The industry is about 10 years old, so cultivated meat is still a few years away from being commercially available to US consumers in grocery stores or restaurants — and maybe up to 20 years out from replacing a substantial portion, or all, of the traditional meat industry, Kaplan said.
Until then, cultivated meat and its potential benefits for animal, human and environmental health are more hope than promise.
How it works
Making cultivated meat is based on the field of tissue engineering — growing human tissues in a lab for medical repairs and regeneration, Kaplan said.
Scientists get cell samples from animals by harvesting a tiny piece of tissue taken via biopsy, isolating cell