Scientists are constantly looking towards the future to identify any potential problems we may face and to work towards finding a solution. They do this for many different aspects of life and for a range of industries, including food production. One area of interest for scientists over the last two decades is food production. They have looked at ways of increasing food production, developing artificial environments for improved production, inventing technology for better agricultural processes and creating artificial food products. In relation to the latter, one type of food that scientists have tried to create in laboratory conditions is meat. Here is what you need to know about cultured meat and its future.
What is Cultured Meat?
Also known as artificial meat, cultured meat is a form of cellular agriculture. It is meat produced using the in vitro cultivation of animal cells that have come from love or slaughtered animals. This meat is also known as in vitro meat, cell-based meat, synthetic meat, slaughter-free meat, vat-grown meat, and clean meat.
How Is Cultured Meat Made?
Various techniques have been used to create artificial meat. However, scientists are now nearly all following the same procedure. It is surprisingly simple and not dissimilar to other cell culture methods that biologists have been using since the 1900s, says BBC Science Focus Magazine. The first step is taking a small sample of muscle from a live cow, and then obtaining a few satellite cells from the muscle tissue. These stem cells have the potential to turn into different types of cell muscles and, theoretically, just one cell can create an infinite quantity of meat.
The collected stem cells are fed a nutrient-rich serum to turn them into muscle cells. They will then double in number every few days. As they multiply, the scientists encourage them to form strips to replicate the fibers in muscle tissue. The fibers are then attached to a sponge-like scaffold. This scaffold mechanically stretches them and floods them with nutrients. This increases the size and protein content of the muscle tissue. It is then possible to harvest the meat, cook it, and eat it.
The History of Cultured Meat: Who Was the First to Make Cultured Meat?
Who first thought of the concept and who created the first artificial meat are two separate things, and it has a longer history than you might expect. The first person who spoke publicly about the idea of creating artificial meat was in 1931 when Winston Churchill said that one day the idea of eating a whole chicken would seem absurd.
However, it wasn’t until four decades later that a scientist performed in vitro cultivation of muscular fibers. In 1971, Russel Ross created smooth muscle tissue from cells he had taken from the muscle surrounding a guinea pig’s aorta.
Further progress was made during the 1990s when it became possible to culture stem cells from animals. This included the production of small quantities of muscle tissue. Since 2001, NASA has been conducting experiments to culture meat from turkey cells. The following year, goldfish cells were grown to look like fish fillets by the NSR/ Touro Applied BioScience Research Consortium.
American scientist Jon F. Vein secured a patent for the production of tissue engineered meat for human consumption in 1998. However, he was not the only person to secure a patent in this field, as dermatologist Wiete Westerhof of the University of Amsterdam also secured a patent in 2001. His was for the process to produce cultured meat. Despite these patents, there were many other teams of scientists in the race to produce the first cultured meat suitable for human consumption. In 2003, a small steak was created by scientists from Harvard Medical School who were part of the Tissue Culture and Art Project.
Animal welfare society PETA offered a prize of $1 million to the first team of scientists that could bring laboratory-grown chickens to the market before 2012. Unfortunately, this was not achieved. Similarly, the Dutch government has funded $4 million worth of experiments into the production of cultured meat. By 2009, scientists from the Netherlands declared that they had grown meat in the laboratory using cells obtained from a live pig.
It wasn’t until 2013 that the first cultured meat was eaten in a live demonstration for the press. This was a beef burger patty that was created by Dr. Mark Prost from Maastricht University.
Animal Welfare Benefits of Cultured Meat
The development of cultured meat is significant to animal welfare issues. If cultivated meat replaced natural meat, it would no longer be necessary to kill animals for the benefit of humans. This would also reduce inhuman slaughter practices that happen in some parts of the world. A further benefit for animal welfare is the lesser need for huge numbers of animals to live in cramped and unhygienic conditions. For those who eat a vegetable-based diet because they do not believe in killing animals, the development of cultured meat is excellent news.
The Agricultural and Environmental Impact of Cultured Meat
According to Cultured Beef, the creation of cultured meats could have positive and significant impacts on the environment and agricultural systems and describes cultured meat as the first crucial step to finding a sustainable alternative to meat production. Current agricultural practices require large plots of land to raise and graze animals. They also require the use of large amounts of energy that impacts on the environment, and there is a huge cost attached in relation to food. Estimates suggest that the development of cultured meat would require only two percent of the land needed for livestock and that it could reduce the energy needs of meat generation by as much as 45 percent.
Meeting Increased Food Production Demands
One of the most important reasons for the development of cultured meats is to tackle food shortages issues. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has estimated that the demand for meat is likely to increase by over two-thirds over the next decade. This is because of an aging and growing population. The production of cultured meats is one strategy for preparing for the predicted food shortage issues.
What Are the Challenges in Creating Cultured Meat?
There are several challenges that scientists face in making mass production of cultured meat a realistic alternative to eating animals. These include time, money, and scale. At the moment, it can take up to two years to develop enough meat to create a single burger and the process costs thousands of pounds. Scientists need to create meat faster, for less money, and on a larger scale. Some of the scientists working on cultured meat projects have suggested that if they had the food production technology and scientific equipment they needed for large scale production, it would reduce the cost of creating a burger to approximately $10.However, this is still a high price to pay in comparison to burgers made using real beef.
Are There Any Disadvantages or Ethical Concerns Regarding Cultured Meat?
Of course, there are some disadvantages to cultured meat products in comparison to natural meat. Similarly, there are some people who have raised ethical concerns about the production of these products. One of the main disadvantages is that the meat may not taste exactly the same or have an identical texture to real meat. Therefore, many people may find this off-putting and may still prefer to buy meat products that are derived from animals that have been slaughtered.
There is also some debate around the use of growth hormones in cultured meat. It may or may not be necessary to use hormones in the production of artificial meat during the mass production process. This is not something that scientists have been able to confirm, as of yet. If it is necessary, then it could deter many people from eating cultured meat for health reasons.
Genetic modification is a further concern. At this time, genetic modification is not used to create cultured meat. However, it is possible that some of these techniques may be implemented in the future to aid the mass production of the products. This is something with which many people do not agree. The two main ethical considerations relate to non-meat eaters and religious issues. First, some people have mistakenly referred to cultured meat as a vegetarian option. Although it does not involve the culling of animals, it is not vegetarian as it is derived from an animal.
Second, some religions do not agree with the scientific intervention to natural processes. Therefore, there are some groups who will find this process distasteful based on their cultural and religious beliefs. There is even the possibility that some countries may ban the development of cultured meats completely, thus making it illegal to create meat products in a laboratory setting using animal cells. These are all issues that are still under consideration, and there is some talk of creating rules and regulations specific to the production of cultured meat to regulate the process as much as possible.
Is Cultured Meat Available Now?
It is estimated that there are now more than 30 laboratories from around the world who are all working on producing cultured meats. The cost of creating cultured meat has dropped significantly, but it is still around ten times more expensive than natural meat. Similarly, scientists are now capable of producing meat much faster than during the experimental years. Further reductions in the timescales are something on which they are working.
Although scientists have successfully created cultured meat that is safe for human consumption, it is not widely available to the mass market yet. However, there is just one restaurant in the world that specializes in serving only cultured meat. Bistro In Vitro claims they are the world’s first lab-grown meat restaurant. This bistro is located in the Netherlands, and they are already taking reservations from diners who want to sample cultured meat.
What Is the Future for Cultured Meat?
It is expected that the production of cultured meats could have a massive impact on food production in the future. In fact, The Guardian reported that most meat will not come from animals as soon as 2040. They say that the global consultancy firm AT Kearney has used expert interviews to collate information on this topic Their findings suggest that by 2040l around 60 percent of the meat that we eat will come from either cultured meat or from meat-replacement products that are made using plant-based products.
AT Kearney are predicting that most people will prefer the cultured meat over plant-based products as they will taste more like natural meat and will have a similar texture. Plant-based products are often criticized for not having an authentic meat texture or taste. While much of the focus of cultured meat production has been on beef and chicken products, the BBC has reported that the British have now joined the cultured meat race and are attempting to create artificial bacon. This project is the work of scientists from the University of Bath, and they have grown cells taken from pigs and grown them on blades of grass. Their aim is to create a slaughter-free supply of bacon.
Overall, there has been significant progress made into researching and developing cultured meats since the turn of the century. Scientists still have some challenges to overcome before they can produce these products on a mass scale, such as time, cost, and production levels. However, the signs are that this is achievable and that consumers can expect to find many cultured meat products on the supermarket shelves within the next two decades. This would potentially include meats that are derived from almost any animal. This would have many advantages for animal welfare, the environment, and agricultural processes. However, there are also disadvantages and ethical issues that still need addressing.