What is cultured meat? How is it produced? Will it taste good? Answers to common questions about cultured meat.
What is cultured meat?
Cultured meat is the meat that is derived from animal cells, with no use of the animals themselves, and with no GM. The final outcome is an all purpose meat. The production of cultured meat begins by incubating stem cells in a media that is rich in nutrients that help the cells grow and divide, while using scaffolds and other technological aids that eventually lead to the creation of a thin layer of muscle tissue that is the edible product.
The following video shows the process of making the first cultured burger in history.
It is important to note that the foundation's research includes finding a plant-based, sustainable substitute for the fetal calf serum used in the video and it will not be used it our products.
Why cultured meat anyway?
The writing’s on the wall – Cultured meat has the potential to become the perfect industrial meat alternative: First and foremost, because it is meat. The exact same meat that people love to eat, with a different production method. Moreover, with today’s technology it is possible to control the ingredients in this food with high precision. It is possible to regulate and even avoid the unwanted: fats, hormones, etc. Lastly, cultured meat as opposed to the meat that comes from the unhygienic factory farms, will be healthier and cleaner.
Part of the diseases that origin in the consumption of animal products could become rarer and even die off. Moreover, the production of cultured meat is a simpler procedure (although temporarily more expensive) than raising animals in factory farms, which includes feeding, mobilizing and slaughtering them. The process of raising animals will be replaced with facilities that will produce the meat in a faster more sufficient way. Likewise, cultured meat does not leave us with inedible animal parts: Skin, bones, respiratory and digestive systems, etc. The savings are big and on top of that the pollution of the air, earth and water will decrease drastically. The energy that is needed to produce cultured meat does not come close to the amount of energy used by factory farms.
Is cultured meat natural?
Cultured meat is natural just like cheese, corn, yogurt and wine are natural. There's no doubt that cultured meat is more natural than the conventional meat produced through factory farming, since farm animals were put through the years of artificial selection to create animals with distorted body proportions. On top of that, animals in factory farms receive unnatural substances (like synthetic hormones to speed growth), and food enriched with antibiotics.
It's important to remember that every type of food humans eat today has been interfered with to some extent by the human race. In the case of plants for example, it is impossible to find a product that hasn't been through aggressive interference by humans (whether by geneticly modifying it or by artificially modifying it), to make it better suited for our needs (for example longer shelf time, higher resistance to pathogens, size, juiciness, growth rate etc.).
Cultured meat, therefore, is as legitimate as any other food that is bought in a store, be it plant based or animal derived.
Why would people want to eat meat created in a laboratory?
Cultured meat would not be created in a lab. As of today, the product is still in development, in order to make quality, tasty and cheaper meat, so there is use of labs. However, this is not different from other foods we eat, be they fruits and vegetables or animal products. Any foods that are on an industrial/agricultural assembly line underwent, at some point in their history, research in a lab to improve their taste, their shelf lives, etc. Researchers around the world are working to improve cultured meat. Once this happens, cultured meat will be produced industrially, most likely in some kind of brewery (similar to how beer is made) and not in a lab.
What does cultured meat taste like?
Cultured meat is the exact same tissue as the meat tissue we know, therefore it will basically taste the same. With that being said, at the experimental stage that cultured meat is at, there are a few obstacles on the way to making cultured meat tasting exactly like the meat that is known to the world. One of those obstacles being the texture of the meat. These obstacles are milestones that need to be overcome before cultured meat can become the perfect substitute for conventional meat.
Where can cultured meat be purchased?
Currently, cultured meat is not available for purchase. In order for cultured meat to become an everyday product to be bought in a supermarket, the amount of resources and awareness of cultured meat research needs to be increased. Nowadays, the cost of development of cultured meat is very high, which makes cultured meat not available for commercial manufacturing and retailing. This problem is temporary. The goal is to create a product that is of the same or of a lower cost than the conventional meat bought in stores today.
When will cultured meat be available in stores?
It is hard to estimate when this is going to happen. Some estimations speak of a ten years time, others of more than 30. Developing the product depends on how much resources will be put into its research. The more resources invested into it the faster the final product will be achieved. At the beginning, only simpler meat products would be available for manufacturing: Sausages, burgers, chicken nuggets etc. The next stage is the development of more complex products like steak, fish, and more.
Does cultured meat contain animal products?
At the current stage the research is in, the stem cells that are being used are adult stem cells, which means they have a limited ability to differentiate and divide. They are taken from animals through an external biopsy (without slaughtering the animal). In addition, in some projects, the cells' growth media includes ingredients that are by-products of the meat industry (fetal calf serum).
One of the purposes of the foundation is to find a way to make cultured meat happen without the ongoing use of animals.
To avoid the dependency on animals for the cells, a line of animal embryonic stem cells could be formed. (Pluripotent cells are able, theoretically, to endlessly divide and differentiate to almost any type of the cell). Another possible solution is to create induced pluripotent embryonic stem cells, which are cells that had gone "reprogramming" to become those pluripotent cells.
To avoid the dependency on animals for serum, more research is needed in order create new serum free media, or existing serum free media that will be efficient and cheap enough to be used as a world-wide substitute for cell growth. The foundation is also conducting such research.
How much will cultured meat cost?
It is hard to answer this question with great precision, since the research is at its early stages. There are estimations that say that at a progressive stage, the price will be identical and even lower to that of the conventional meat being consumed today. The principle on which it is based, is that cultured meat will need less resources, land, mobilization, work force, and so on, and so, it can definitely become a financially cheap product for the masses.