Raising animals for consumption has caused a great deal of controversy in the past few decades. It requires a significant investment of resources and has a major impact on the environment. Additionally, the antibiotics and growth hormones used could negatively impact human health.
However, scientists have envisioned a meat-eating future in which this investment of resources and use of controversial substances is not necessary. This future is closer than ever before. Estimates indicate that lab-grown meat could hit market shelves within the next five years. Already, some lab-grown meats have been produced and offered for taste tests with some surprisingly positive reviews.
Individuals should not confuse lab-grown meat with meat substitutes like the Impossible Burger. While the Impossible Burger is made to resemble meat as much as possible, the product is based completely on plant proteins. Lab-grown chicken, on the other hand, is actually chicken.
Scientists grow the meat in a lab after taking some living cells out of a chicken and culturing it. This approach represents a cruelty-free approach to producing meat since it represents a product that did not require any death or even any animal agriculture. Because of this property, some people have begun referring to this option as “clean meat.”
The cells are collected from the animal using a biopsy that is not harmful. The company Just in San Francisco, which recently produced lab-grown chicken nuggets, says that it can also harvest cells from feathers. Once harvested, lab technicians identify the most viable cells and then combine them with the proper nutrients in a bioreactor.
The nutrients used in growing the chicken nuggets all come from plants. Theoretically, this process involves far fewer resources than raising animals on a farm although concerns over the amount of energy required for this process as it scales up have been raised. The Just chicken product takes only two weeks to grow in a bioreactor, so the energy investment is not insignificant.
However, even more energy goes into growing food that is fed to farm-raised animals. On average, only a single calorie of chicken-based energy is reaped from every nine calories invested into the animal. This fact is the reason that vegetarians have a lower impact on the environment than people who eat meat.
However, the new process avoids much of this energy investment. This is critical considering that the demand for meat is expected to nearly double by 2050. The other environmental benefit that individuals need to consider is that lab-based meat requires 99 percent less land, which leaves this space open for growing fruits, vegetables, and other items.
Now that Just has successfully produced chicken nuggets, it is working on other forms of clean meat. The company’s next product will purportedly be wagyu beef. Several other companies are also working on clean meat, including SuperMeat, which is producing clean chicken, and Memphis Meats, which focuses on chicken and duck.
In the United Kingdom, researchers at the University of Bath are developing a clean version of bacon that is grown using animal cells on a blade of grass. The cultured cells are taken directly from a pig without harming it. These cells are then grown in a bioreactor, similar to other processes. The grass is used as a scaffold for structure.
These advances are exciting, especially for people concerned about animal rights. Individuals should note that clean meat production has a long history even if products are only now becoming commercially viable. The first burger ever grown in a lab was actually accomplished by a team of scientists in the Netherlands. The single patty represented an investment of 250,000 euros because of the time and labor involved.
Scientists have a come a long way in making the process less labor intensive and more scalable. In 2018, researchers in Israel produced a clean steak that cost $50 for a thin strip. However, the individuals behind it admit that more work is needed to perfect the product before it is commercially viable.
Another company worth knowing in this race to produce clean meat is Beyond Meat, which already offers meat substitutes. However, the company has also been working on clean beef. It predicts that a lab-grown burger will be available in the near future, although for the steep price of about $50 per patty.
All of this means that we may see clean meat products available in the near future. Just is currently in the process of gaining approval from the USDA and FDA before it brings it to the American market. The regulatory approval process in Asia is almost completed, and the product should be available in high-end restaurants there later this year.