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A Compassionate, Sustainable Alternative to Conventional Meat?

Food Integrity Campaign | November 6, 2018

Food Integrity Campaign (FIC) whistleblower clients have revealed serious problems with modern meat production: mistreated animals, unsafe working conditions, and food safety hazards. Proponents of a new technology called cell-based meat aim to circumvent many problems altogether through a completely new production system.

In short, cell-based meat involves taking cells from an animal, using those cells to grow many more in a lab, and using the large volume of cells to make a meat alternative. In order for the cells to resemble the actual animal muscle that makes up meat, they have to be grown on an edible “scaffold” to give the product texture and structure like conventional meat.

The process itself is still being refined, as many companies scramble to figure out a cost-effective, sustainable way to bring their products to scale. The potential promise of this technology is enticing. Consider:

  • Cell-based meat could drastically reduce the number of animals involved in meat production, thus reducing the killing of animals and their confinement in factory farms.
  • Early environmental impact analyses indicate that, even accounting for the materials needed to grow the cells, cell-based meat production would use far less land than conventional meat, opening farmland to raise other foods rather than feedstock.
  • Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of varying ranges are possible as well.  Conventional beef produces the most greenhouse gas emissions, so cell-based beef offers the best chance to lessen the impact.
  • Cell-based meat would not rely on antibiotics the way industrial agriculture does, reducing the development of antibiotic resistance in foodborne pathogens.
  • Cell-based seafood could be made without environmental contaminants such as mercury and plastic.

The number of start-up companies working to bring cell-based meat to market continues to grow, and the federal government is paying attention. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently held a joint meeting to consider how to regulate and label cell-based meat products. Look for more coverage of the heated debate about the future of this new technology in our food system.

12 Comments

  1. Nina Diamante says:

    Sounds like a great idea.  When will it be available?  NinaReport

  2. pattybonney says:

    So far I haven’t seen anything on the difference in flavor of meat from animals eating a different diet. Wild trout doesn’t taste like farm-raised unless it is fed a special diet. Wild Chinese pheasant doesn’t taste like farm-raised.

    What chance is there that all the beef will taste the same, and on through all the other kinds of flesh?

    P BonnReport

  3. Nina Diamante says:

    don’t know. NinaReport

  4. FIC Staff says:

    Thanks so much for your question and interest, Nina! It’s still uncertain when these products will come to market. As of yet, USDA and FDA are still deciding how to regulate and label it for food safety, while the companies are still figuring out how to scale up the process. Our next blog will cover the debate over how to bring cell-based meat to market.Report

  5. FIC Staff says:

    Thanks so much for your comment and question, Patty! Representatives from cell-based meat companies have described favorable taste tests of their product with chefs and others. One of the big challenges is reproducing the texture of muscle meat, like steak, versus a ground product, like sausage or ground beef.Report

  6. pattybonney says:

    I figured the taste would be fine. My concern was whether all the “beef” would taste the same as all the other “beef”, and all the “chicken” would taste the same as all the other created “chicken.” In the current world the flavor of meat differs depending upon what the animal eats.

    Your answer didn’t answer my question.
    Report

  7. FIC Staff says:

    Thanks again for the question, Patty. The question of flavor is a good one, and, for cell-based meat as with meat from animals, I suspect it will depend on the production practices. Individual cell-based meat companies would each decide the goals for their flavor profile and what they most wished to mimic. That’s as far as I know, and there’s a lot more yet to be determined as the industry develops.Report

  8. Nina Diamante says:

    AS long as we are not using animals that create more carbon dioxide and are mistreated and we have healthy food, I don’t care if animals fed different things taste different.  I have been a vegetarian for 40 years not to contribute to pollution and am a healthy 81 year old who Never gets sick.  Nina DiamanteReport

  9. pattybonney says:

    Thanks you for answering my question as best as can be done at this point.
    Report

  10. pattybonney says:

    Thank you. I am 88, a healthy non-vegetarian who never gets sick.
    Report

  11. Matt says:

    >to make a meat alternative

    Note — it isn’t an alternative. It is actual meat. As Tom Hayes, then CEO of Tyson Foods said, “If we can grow meat without the animal, why wouldn’t we?”Report

  12. FIC Staff says:

    Check out our blog, “Cell-Based Meat: The Great Debate” for more on the wide-ranging discussion on what food labels will say about cell-based meat, including whether and how to call it meat.Report

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