Cultivated Meat: Something To Fear, or Something To Embrace?

Cultured Meat

By Roberto Guerra

Many events and discoveries throughout history have greatly affected the way we live our lives today, and will continue to do so for generations to come, such as the industrial and technological innovations of the 18th century. 

The telegraph saved us time and energy when it came to communicating with those in far-away places. It also saved a few ponies the backbreaking work of delivering messages with people on their backs. The automobile did the same favor for the world’s horses. 

The day the Wright brothers got an airplane off the ground for the first time changed the way we travel across the globe, for eternity, and the moon landings revolutionized our perception of the limits imposed upon us by the laws of physics.

But a lesser-known historic event has the potential to go down in history as another turning point for our species (and others), this time with regards to how we perceive food. Unlike those previously mentioned, this event took place much more recently, on December 19th, 2020. 

On this day there were no shuttles launched into space, and no gravity-altering events. 

Instead, this event marks the first time cultivated meat (also known as cell-based or cell-cultured meat) was approved and sold to the public, an occasion which took place at a Singaporean events center called 1880.  

The cultivated meat was provided by Eat Just, which produces the plant-based egg brand JUST Egg. 

“This historic step, the first-ever commercial sale of cultured meat, moves us closer to a world where the majority of meat we eat will not require tearing down a single forest, displacing a single animal’s habitat or using a single drop of antibiotics,” said Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just, “We’re thrilled to partner with 1880 to launch a product that will someday be served on the dinner tables of families living in the suburbs of Birmingham, Alabama, to the skyscrapers of Shanghai.”

At the time of writing this article, Singapore is the only country that has fully approved the sale of cultivated meat to the public, but other nations will soon follow suit. 

What is cultivated meat and how is it made?

Unlike plant-based meat analogues, cultivated meat actually comes from a live animal. The major difference is that, in order to produce the meat, the animal does not need to be killed. 

How is this possible? It all starts with the extraction of a small sample of tissue from a single animal, taken from the skin or even from a single hair follicle. 

After the sample is taken, the animal can return to its daily life. 

From the sample, the necessary cells are isolated and placed in a controlled environment of humidity and temperature. Here it forms tissue through a natural process of cell proliferation. The cells are then placed in an aqueous environment filled with amino acids, proteins, mineral salts, and air, along with other elements so they are able to grow, creating muscle tissue with proteins. 

The cells are then placed into a kind of bioreactor that simulates the animal’s natural body, and this is how the meat comes to fruition. 

The benefits of cell cultured meat production 

When compared to the traditional meat industry, cultivated meat has numerous benefits for human health, the environment, and animal health. For one, a significantly higher amount of meat can be produced. According to Mosa Meat, a Dutch food technology company investing in the cultivated meat sector, a small sample from a single cow has the potential to yield enough muscle tissue to produce 80,000 quarter pounders.

Not only is this industry of the future so much more sustainable with regards to land use, water consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions, it is also much less likely to result in incidences of foodborne illnesses, since there is significantly less risk of enteric pathogens, according to a 2020 publication in Nature Food

Considering the recent and emerging threats to the global food supply, such as COVID-19, the Russia/Ukraine conflict, and of course, climate change, the cell cultured meat industry has the potential to mitigate the potential for food shortages, considering how little resources it requires. 

“Significant upward pressure on the pricing of slaughtered meat due to lingering COVID-related supply chain issues, as well as the wide ranging sanctions on Russia due to the conflict between Russian and Ukraine, will accelerate the availability and subsequent affordability of cultivated meat as it is viewed as more stable and reliable due to its decentralized nature,” said Eric Jenkusky, CEO and Co-founder of Matrix Meats, an American food tech company developing scaffolding solutions for the incoming cultivated meat industry. 

José Luis Cabañero, founder and CEO of Eatable Adventures,  one of the leading foodtech accelerators with global operations, says that, “countries rely on each other to secure an efficient and diverse food supply through the import and export of food products. Cell-based meat not only enables food to be produced more sustainably by eliminating the need to farm animals (and everything this entails), but also encourages countries to be self-sufficient in their food production, which has positive repercussions in their financial standing.”  

Considering the conventional meat industry (which raises and kills 70 billion land animals per year) is not only extremely cruel, but also takes up 45% of the Earth’s habitable land surface, consumes 55 trillion gallons of water annually and contributes more greenhouse gas emissions than the global transportation industry, cultivated meat has the potential to revolutionize food production in ways that would benefit all of us, human or not. 

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