A Startup Could Soon Sell Lab‑Grown Meat in the U.S.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States just approved lab-grown meat for public consumption for the first time. A start-up called Upside Foods will now sell chicken meat that isn’t from slaughtered animals but is grown using their cells in a bioreactor. The FDA labeled the product Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) — which means that the public will now be able to consume it. The start-up’s founder told Wired that they’ll begin rolling out the product in select restaurants first.
The process of growing this meat involves taking cells from live animals and, in a bioreactor, administer the nutrients needed for the cells to divide and become differentiated tissue. The conversation around lab-grown meat has emerged recently in response to climate concerns about the meat industry as a whole. The process of raising animals for slaughter leads to many carbon emissions and is also resource intensive — making it unsustainable in the long run. Cultivated meat could change that — it would do away with the requirement for farm-lands, methane from the animals themselves, and a host of other factors involved. It’s not certain how this would play out if cultivated meat is produced on a mass scale, however, and some researchers aren’t convinced it would necessarily be more sustainable.
But there’s also another aspect to consider — the ethics. Lab-grown meat is more humane, in that it doesn’t require raising of animals in horrible conditions for slaughter. It doesn’t involve any pain — and no life is being lost.
Despite all this, not many are keen on getting behind lab-grown — or cultivated, cultured, cell-based, or “clean” — meat either. A study that assessed people’s attitudes toward lab-grown meat found that the “perceived unnaturalness” of the meat was a big factor that put people off. “Divergent cognitive appraisals of cultured meat, we propose, may induce in vegetarians and meat-eaters the same affective disgust response,” wrote the researchers.
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Still other questions abound. What would the nutrient profile of cultivated meat be? Some say that it would be the same, but without saturated fats and cholesterol of “real” meat. Others say it could be better — given that it’s easy to simply enrich the nutrient profile of this meat by incorporating more bioactive compounds. There would also be fewer antibiotics and growth hormones that are traditionally used in industrial meat. And as for the taste, lab-grown meat is most like burger patty, sausage, or nuggets in consistency — which means that various cuts of meat aren’t as feasible yet.
But we may still be a ways from mass producing meat this way at a scale that’s enough to meet the total demand for meat. Some experts suggest that the estimates are way off: the costs of producing lab-grown meat are way higher when accounting for wastage, “growth medium” production (the nutrient feed for the cells), and the need for clean, sterile rooms.
Lab-grown meat is already being served in some parts of the world. An Israeli company has begun growing and serving cultivated chicken — with experts being unable to tell the difference in taste between cultivated and “real” chicken. But as far as replacing traditional forms of meat production is concerned, cultivated meat isn’t the silver bullet it seems. At least, not yet.