Lab-grown or cultured meat was previously just a concept in science fiction stories. Now it may be stocking up in a grocery sooner or later.
Just this month December 2020, Singapore has granted the San Francisco start-up “Eat Just Inc.” regulatory approval to sell its laboratory-grown chicken in the city-state making it the world’s first government to allow the sale of cultured meat.
The questions everyone is probably asking now are “is it safe?” “What does it taste like?” And “how is it made?”
Cultured meat is meat produced by the in vitro cell culture of animal cells, and this can be done by harvesting the cells of the animal without the need for killing.
The cells may then be grown indefinitely without the need for further harvests from live animals. It is like a form of cellular agriculture.
According to the article, “Medical technology to Produce Food” published in the Journal of Science and Food Agriculture, it is produced using the same medical engineering techniques typically used in regenerative medicine.
The concept of cultured meat was popularized by Jason Matheny, Founding Director of the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, in the early 2000s after co-authoring a seminal paper on cultured meat production and creating “New Harvest”, the world’s first nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting in vitro meat research.
In 2013, Mark Post, a professor at Maastricht University, was the first to showcase a proof-of-concept for cultured meat. He created and subsequently showed the first burger patty grown directly from cells. Since then, several other lab grown meat prototypes have gained media attention and start-ups have been rising; with Israel housing the first restaurant to serve cultured meat.
Fortunately there are little to no worries on its safety.
It is also “guilt free” by ethical standards in the context that no live animal is being slaughtered to make it. This is already a boon in the prospects for its wide acceptance. Basically, Muscle cells cannot think or experience anything on their own, and they do not independently develop a brain. Without consciousness, cultured meat, which are only muscle cells, cannot suffer.
An article published in massivesci.com mentioned researches that have suggested that antibiotic use which is prevalent in traditional animal raising and had been contributing to the rise of resistant microbes, are lacking in the creation of cultured meat, which typically lead to benefits not only on an individual’s nutritional health but public health as well. A research article published in Environmental Science & Technology, titled, “Environmental Impacts of Cultured Meat Production” stated that cultured meat’s effect on the environment would be significantly lower than normally slaughtered beef.
For every hectare that is used for vertical farming and/or cultured meat manufacturing, anywhere between 10 and 20 hectares of land may be converted from conventional agriculture usage back into its natural state.
Cultured meat development and its researches can also; and is probably already contributing to, numerous biotechnological advancements – helpful in both medical science and engineering. Researchers have further suggested that omega-3 fatty acids along with other nutrients could be added to cultured meat as a health bonus, which is relatively easier to administer relative to methods in tradition animal raising, where farmers alter an animal’s feed and environment so that its meat will become healthier.
One particular con however (for meat purists that is) is the authenticity of the meat. The lack of bone and cardiovascular system may be a disadvantage for dishes where these parts make appreciable culinary contributions. However, the lack of bones and/or blood may make many traditional meat preparations more palatable to small children, people with disabilities, old people and the sick. Furthermore, cultured blood and bones could potentially be produced in the future as well anyway.
The only practical challenge cultured meat currently have are costs. At the moment, cultured meat is estimated to be significantly more costly than conventional meat – for instance, the first cultured burger in 2013 cost upwards of $330,000 USD. This may probably be because the technology is relatively new and it’s currently not being mass produced yet.
Consumer acceptance and availability will be another concern, as always in scientific advancements, the use of highly technical language to explain cultured meat may lead to a negative public attitude especially for people who have strict religious and cultural traditions with regard to food.
In conclusion, cultured meat may be the food of the future, leading to a more healthier, less morally challenging and safer diet for the public and the best that the media can do about it currently is to make sure the public will be informed properly on its many advantages so that one day everyone can finally enjoy meat, guilt free.