Over the past few decades, the search for alternative protein sources has been on the forefront of culture.
Factory farming has become widely seen as massively unethical, with an overwhelming amount of evidence that the mistreatment of living animals is both inhumane and immoral.
Further, the consequences of factory farming and traditional agriculture on our global environment has also come into the spotlight. It’s common knowledge that farming leads to greenhouse gases on an unprecedented scale and land degradation beyond repair.
The first foray into practical change has been “plant based foods”. Simply put, using plants to replicate the nutritional quality of animal products. While this has seen enormous adoption and success, there is also a core issue: human behaviour.
Only so many people are willing to eat “alternatives” to meat, dairy and other popular food types. Many people remain regimented in their consumption and habits around food, regardless of what the ethical and environmental consequences are.
This is where cellular agriculture and cell based foods come in. And why the promise of this new type of food is sweeping the world, from politics to entrepreneurship.
Cellular Agriculture: Growing food products from cells in a controlled environment rather than within an animal or traditional crop.
Cell-Based Foods: Foods produced from cellular agriculture.
Cultivated Meat: Meat produced from cellular agriculture.
Lab-Grown Meat: The most common general description of cultivated meat.
What Are Cell Based Foods?
Cell based foods, also referred to as cultivated or cultured foods or “lab grown meat", are produced from cell cultures taken from an animal. Those cell lines are grown in a lab, commonly in a bioreactor, using a combination of nutrients, growth factors and other substances.
The key distinction is a simple one: it is not an alternative to meat, but real genuine animal meat. The only “alternative” involved is an alternative method of production.
At a high level, this creates a few exponential benefits. It reduces the land required to produce animal proteins. It requires significantly less water than traditional livestock farming. It contributes far less greenhouse gases into the environment, due to a significantly more energy efficient way of producing meat. And it does not require the common antibiotics often (harmfully) found in traditionally farmed meat.
Each of these benefits is worth exploring in significant depth in order to better understand why cultivated meat and dairy has such enormous potential. But as a starting place, cell based foods offer an enormous net benefit to both the environmental health of our planet and our ethical boundaries.
What is Cellular Agriculture?
Cellular agriculture is a way to grow food products, such as meat, dairy, and eggs, using cells from animals rather than raising whole animals. It involves taking a small sample of cells from an animal, such as a cow, and growing them in a lab using a nutrient-rich mixture. This process can be used to create meat, dairy, and egg products that are identical to those made from animals raised on a farm. The advantage of cellular agriculture is that it has the potential to produce these food products with less environmental impact and ethical concerns associated with traditional livestock farming. In simple terms, it is a way to create animal products without needing to raise and kill animals, it's like growing food in a lab.
How is Lab-Grown Meat Made?
Lab-grown meat, also known as cultured meat or cultivated meat, is made using a process called cellular agriculture. The basic steps of the process are:
- Cell collection: A small sample of cells is taken from an animal, such as a cow or chicken. These cells are typically muscle or stem cells, which have the ability to multiply and differentiate into various types of tissue.
- Cell growth: The cells are placed in a nutrient-rich mixture, called a culture medium, that supports their growth and development. The cells are then incubated in an environment that mimics the conditions inside the animal's body, such as temperature and pH.
- Cell differentiation: As the cells multiply, they begin to differentiate into muscle cells, which make up the majority of the meat. The cells are stimulated to differentiate into muscle cells by applying different mechanical, chemical, and electrical stimuli.
- Cell aggregation: The muscle cells are then combined to form small pieces of meat called "myotubes" or "meat beads" in the lab.
- Meat production: The myotubes or meat beads are then grown into larger pieces of meat. This can be done by growing them in a bioreactor or by using a scaffold to support the muscle cells as they grow. The final product is a piece of meat that is identical in taste and texture to that produced by traditional livestock farming.
It's worth noting that the technology for lab-grown meat is still in its early stages and the process may evolve and improve over time. However, the idea is to mimic the natural process of muscle growth of animals and replicate it in a lab, using cells as the building blocks.
What Are the Benefits of Cellular Agriculture over Factory Farming?
Cellular agriculture has several potential benefits over factory farming, including:
- Environmental sustainability: Cellular agriculture uses significantly less land, water, and energy than traditional livestock farming. It also produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change.
- Animal welfare: Cellular agriculture does not involve the breeding, raising, and killing of animals, making it a more ethical alternative to factory farming.
- Food safety: Lab-grown meat is produced in a controlled environment, reducing the risk of food-borne illness and the use of antibiotics, growth hormones, and other chemicals.
- Food security: Cellular agriculture could potentially produce meat and other animal products in areas where traditional livestock farming is not feasible due to lack of land or water resources.
- Reduced risk of zoonotic disease transmission: as lab-grown meat does not involve raising and killing animals, it reduces the risk of zoonotic disease transmission from animals to humans.
Do Animals Have To Die For Cellular Agriculture?
No. Animals do not have to die for cultivated and cell based foods to be possible. Cell lines are simply taken from a living animal and then used to begin the production method. Outside of taking cell lines from an animal, there is no involvement of an animal.
Is Lab Grown Meat Good for the Environment?
Lab-grown meat, also known as cultured meat or cultivated meat, has the potential to be more environmentally friendly than traditional livestock farming. It uses significantly less land and water, and produces less greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, lab-grown meat doesn't require the use of antibiotics or growth hormones, and doesn't involve the killing of animals.
What Types Of Food Can Be Produced With Cellular Agriculture?
The short answer is: almost any. Currently, there are companies working on meat, dairy, fish, honey, chocolate, coffee, collagen and much more.
What Companies Are Working on Cell Based Foods?
The landscape is changing rapidly, and new companies are consistently being launched and funded. We've created our Company Database to help you discover, understand, and stay up-to-date with all of them.
Is Cultivated Meat Available Now?
Depending on where you live, yes. Cultivated chicken is available and legal in Singapore currently. And recently in North America, the FDA granted a historic approval to UPSIDE Foods for their cultivated chicken, marking the first regulatory approval ever for cultivated meat in the United States.
Is Lab Grown Meat Kosher?
According to a recent ruling from Israel's Chief Rabbi David Lau, yes, cultivated meat is kosher.
Is Lab Grown Meat Vegan?
This is largely still up for debate and personal perspectives. Some opinions say since no animals are being slaughtered in order to produce lab grown meat, yes. Other opinions lean towards lab grown meat still being a consumption of a living animal in some aspects, therefore making it not vegan.
How Did Lab Grown Meat First Start?
The first ever edible lab grown meat was a burger formulated by Dutch professor Mark Post. It required more than 20,000 individual pieces of muscle tissue harvested from stem cells and took an estimated $325,000 in research and development costs.
Are Any Notable People Investing in Lab Grown Meat and Cellular Agriculture?
Yes, there are several notable people and organizations that have invested in lab-grown meat and cellular agriculture, including Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Sergey Brin, Peter Thiel, Li Ka-Shing, Cargill, and Tyson Foods. As the technology and market for lab-grown meat and cellular agriculture continues to grow, it's likely that more and more investors will become interested in this field.