Is lab-grown meat the next frontier in ethical eating?

The meatless burger is surely one of the biggest food trends of 2019. The rising popularity of options like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods burgers come as scientists implore consumers to switch to a more plant-based diet to help tackle climate change.

But there’s another option lurking on the horizon: lab-grown meat. Or, as scientists prefer to call it, “cultured” or “clean” meat. It has the potential to be better for both the environment and your health.

Amy Rowat, associate professor of integrative biology and physiology at University of California, Los Angeles, is one of six scientists who received a grant earlier this year from the Good Food Institute in Washington, D.C., to further develop cultured meat. 

Born and raised in Guelph, Ont., Rowat spent years studying cells and has years of academic experience in the science of food.

“All the food that we eat is made of cells,” Rowat said, so developing cultured meat was a natural fit. In the simplest terms, stem cells are taken from an animal’s muscle and put in a nutrient-rich broth, of sorts, to encourage them to multiply and grow into muscle fibres. So, it is real meat, but with one key difference: Animals don’t have to be raised or killed to produce it.

Rowat and her grad student, Stephanie Kawecki, determined that to produce one billion quarter-pounder burgers (113 grams each), it takes 1.2 million cows living for three years on 8,600 square kilometres of land (and then slaughtering them). The same number of cultured burgers would require the muscle stem cells of just one living cow, and they’d take only about a month and a half to grow. 

Right now, those cultured burgers would be pricey. The first lab-grown burger was produced in a Netherlands lab in 2013 at a cost of about $425,000 Cdn, although Israeli company Future Meat Technologies said last year it could bring the cost down into the range of $3.00 to $6.00 Cdn a pound (453 kg) by 2020. Rowat believes cultured meat will eventually be on par cost-wise with organic beef. 

Some believe it could be available in two to five years. But the pivotal question is: Will people eat it?

Lab-grown meat “is a foreign concept,” said Kara Nielsen, who analyzes food trends at CCD Innovation in Emeryville, Calif. But she sees a definite advantage. It will have the familiar taste and texture of farmed meat, and it’s a good alternative for people concerned with animal rights. “It certainly wins on you-didn’t-kill-a-cow-to-eat-this-burger,” she said. 

Another plausible selling point: it could be healthier than farmed beef. “Imagine modifying genetically the cellular components so that they produce healthier molecules in your cultured meat,” said Rowat. For example, to make a lower-fat meat, or one with more healthy fat.

On the environmental front, if people move away from farmed beef, there would be less need to clear cut land to raise cattle, and less methane from those gassy cows. 

recent Oxford University study, however, highlights a potential hurdle. It found that the amount of heat and electricity required to produce cultured meat could be worse, environmentally, than some cattle farming, if energy systems remain dependent on fossil fuels. 

The researchers suggested that to be more environmentally responsible, companies producing cultured meat would have to do something to mitigate carbon emissions. That could be crucial to cultured meat’s success. 

Nielsen said the potential positives may be what push people past any feelings of strangeness about eating lab-grown meat.

“It could be that we’ll leapfrog to an acceptance …  like, ‘You know what? I still want to eat my beef. And my beef just comes from a separate place.'” SOURCE

The Guardian view on meat substitutes: guts without the gore

In the developed world we should take heart from people’s willingness to try new, vegan foodstuffs – and from the success of the companies that make them


Diet is among lifestyle changes urgently needed if developed nations are to have a hope of meeting targets for reduced carbon emissions.’ Photograph: Seth Perlman/AP

The Seventh-day Adventist church in the US adheres historically to vegetarianism, in large part to the teachings of a co-founder of the church – Ellen G White – who advocated for meat-free diet habits following a prophetic vision. Mrs White apparently thought eating animal flesh would “excite and strengthen the lower passions” and had “the tendency to deaden the moral powers”. For almost a decade from the late 19th century a slice of America was marketed and brought up on meat substitutes such as Nuteena, a peanut-based loaf, along with Wham, Tuno, FriChick and Big Franks. While there has always been a market for growing numbers of vegetarians and vegans worldwide, the cause of meat-free diets has been given in recent years a rocket boost, not by religion but by reason.

Diet is among lifestyle changes urgently needed if developed nations are to have a hope of meeting targets for reduced carbon emissions, a must to halt global heating. Every environmentalist and a great many ordinary people – including plenty of non-vegetarians – know that grains, vegetables and pulses including soya ought to soon form a far larger share of the typical western diet than they do at present. Industrialised agriculture and livestock farming are massively carbon-intensive activities. While the UN estimates they cause 23% of global emissions, critics believe this is an underestimate and the true total is far higher.

Last week KFC (formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken) became the latest fast food giant to announce that it is working on new products based on meat substitutes: in this case, “Beyond Fried Chicken”, a vegan nugget developed in partnership with California-based company Beyond Meat. Following Burger King’s launch this year of the meat-free Whopper, with ingredients supplied by Beyond Meat’s main competitor, Impossible Foods, the KFC announcement confirms what was already clear: there is real momentum, and money, behind the growth of plant-based alternatives to meat.

Veganism in the UK is nothing new. But for some people it is changing our food landscape too fast. Last year the bakery chain Greggs faced criticism for selling a vegan sausage roll filled with meat-free Quorn. When a row between food writer Selene Nelson and Waitrose magazine editor William Sitwell exploded into headlines after Mr Sitwell sent such a rude reply to a proposal for a vegan recipe series, he resigned. It is ridiculous to treat shoppers for pastry snacks as warriors in a culture war.

The structural shifts required to address the climate crisis will not be made in bakeries. The countries that drove the global rise in the consumption of animal products in the past are not the ones that will do so in future. But that doesn’t mean the rich world can go on eating beef and lamb with impunity, any more than we can continue to fly around the world without thinking about the harm that air traffic entails. Instead, we should take heart from the instances in which behaviour change is a message that consumers are willing to consider (the reduction in plastic bag use is another). Greggs’ shares jumped more than 13% between February and March this year, and the company is working on a vegan version of its steak bake. Bring it on.