What’s next in the meat department?
Call it cultivated, cell-cultured, or grown in the lab – this new way of developing meat products is booming. According to the Good Food Institute, more than 70 companies focused on developing cultured meat in 2020, up from 55 in 2019. There are more than 15 different types of animal meats in development, including beef, chicken, pork, shrimp, duck, white fish, salmon, tuna, and lamb.
Beginning around 2013, food manufacturers started to recognize the possibility of developing consumer meat products from cells grown in a lab. The first sample lab-grown meats were produced in 2019, and now the focus is on being able to produce cultivated meat on a large scale.
What is cultivated meat?
Traditional agriculture practices have existed for centuries: animals are born, they grow, then are slaughtered and processed for food. We don’t typically think of the chicken or seafood we eat as individual cells, but that’s what they are – a combination of millions of cells that contain proteins, fats, and other nutrients. Cultivated meat, also known as cellular agriculture, replicates the cell growth process in a lab, starting with cells from animals to create cultured meat products. The animal cells are placed in a bioreactor where they are grown, feeding off nutrients and growth factors designed to promote cell growth. The cultivated meats are harvested and then processed.
Are cultivated meats regulated for safety?
In 2019 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA-FSIS) established a formal agreement to regulate cultivated meats in the United States market for safety and to make sure these products are properly labeled. The labeling of food derived from cultured seafood cells generally falls under the jurisdiction of the FDA while the labeling of food derived from cultured meat and poultry cells will be overseen by the USDA.
In October 2020, the USDA issued a Request for Information to help determine what next steps may be needed to ensure that these foods are labeled properly. One of the most important questions is what terms will be used to differentiate cultivated meat products from traditional products so that consumers know what they are purchasing.
Can I purchase cultivated meat in my local grocery store?
Currently Singapore is the only place where cultivated meat, in the form of chicken nuggets, is available. There aren’t any firm dates for when cultivated meat might be available in the United States. Foods without a complex structure, such as ground meat, nuggets, or flaked seafood will most likely be the first cultivated meat products on the market. Experts expect companies will also produce meat and hybrid veggie products such as a hybrid burger that contains both cultivated meat and plant foods.
What are the potential benefits to cultivated meat?
According to an article published in Nature Food in July 2020, there are three broad advantages of cultured meat: sustainability, animal welfare, and public health.
- Sustainability: Cultured meat uses less water and requires less land than is currently used to house and feed animals. Animals are one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Fertilizer won’t be needed, and there will be no manure to manage.
- Animal welfare: 99% of animals used for food are factory farmed.
- Public health: Animal products are one of the most common sources of food-borne illness such as Salmonella and Listeria (source). Antibiotic abuse in agriculture contributes to antimicrobial resistance in human disease, and since cultured meats will not require antibiotics, there will potentially be a decrease in human antimicrobial resistance. It’s estimated that there will be a 70% global increase in meat demand due to population growth, and some scientists believe that there won’t be enough resources to provide meat produced by traditional methods to the world by 2050.
What are the potential negatives to cultivated meat?
Since the proposed production of cultured meat is energy intensive, some environmental benefits will require a shift away from fossil fuels to clean energy sources.
Further, there is currently no safety regulation for cultivated meat.
In addition, there could be a large negative economic impact on areas that depend on traditional animal farming.
And finally, one big question is whether consumers will accept cultivated meats as a safe and delicious food option.
By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDCES, CHWC, CPT
Intrigued? Learn more in the post Lighting Q&A: Cultured Meat.
- Good Food Institute. 2020State of the Industry Report: Cultivated Meat. https://gfi.org/resource/cultivated-meat-eggs-and-dairy-state-of-the-industry-report/ accessed 10-25-21
- Michigan State University. Center for Research on Ingredient Safety. https://www.canr.msu.edu/cris/ accessed 10-26-21
- UC Davis. Cows and Climate Change. Making cattle more sustainable. Amy Quinton. June 27, 2019. https://www.ucdavis.edu/food/news/making-cattle-more-sustainable
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Food Made With Cultured Animal Cells. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-ingredients-packaging/food-made-cultured-animal-cells content current as of 10/6/20; accessed 10/25/21
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA Seeks Input on Labeling of Food Made with Cultured Seafood Cells. https://www.fda.gov/food/cfsan-constituent-updates/fda-seeks-input-labeling-food-made-cultured-seafood-cells content current as of 10/6/20; accessed 10/25/21
- Post, M.J., Levenberg, S., Kaplan, D.L. et al. Scientific, sustainability and regulatory challenges of cultured meat. Nat Food 1, 403–415 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-020-0112-z
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.