In December 2020, Singapore approved lab-grown chicken for sale. New developments like these raise the question of whether cultured meat, like the kind approved, is beneficial not only to humans, but the environment as a whole.
According to the Guardian, lab-grown chicken is more attainable than any other meat because avian stem cells have been used in the vaccine industry for many years. The process of culturing meat starts by taking a cell, which can come from a variety of different sources. The cell is then grown permanently in a lab in a culture medium. The culture medium, where the cells are grown, itself has made cultured meat more controversial, as one of the best mediums is foetal bovine serum (FBS), which is blood taken from dead calves.
The issue with FBS is that these companies’ goal is to make meat slaughter-free, and FBS is far from it. According to the Guardian , Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Good Food Institute, Bruce Friedrich, discusses FBS as a growing problem with cultured meat, and how it may be resolved.
“All of the companies have pledged that they will not sell products that involve FBS in the production,” Friedrich says. However, when the process was approved in Singapore, Eat Just, a cultured meat manufacturer used FBS in their first production line. Even though the solution is removed before consumption, the process of making the meat is not slaughter-free. Still, the next production line will use a plant-based cultured medium instead of FBS.
The issue of many’s distaste of lab-grown food is also a concern for companies. According to the Guardian, young and educated people are most willing to try this meat and are the ones who are most likely to remove the stigma around it.
“To gain complete acceptance of this, we should regard cultured meat as just meat,” Sophomore Rohit Iyer says. “Without adding any other names, as a way to break people’s stigma that this is ‘fake.’”
The companies have overall managed to argue that it is meat, with exceptions in a few states. However, the overall goal of these companies is to make their product affordable and as tasty as regular meat. Most believe that education of the process will help normalize it.
Some animal rights groups have come out in favor of this technology, saying that people don’t want to deal with the possibility that they can not or should not eat meat. However, some groups, like the website Clean Meat Hoax, have come out against the technology the with opposite sentiment, saying that meat is not a desirable product at all as it implies that animals are simply a resource.
However, cultured meat may have an impact beyond the morality of animal consumption, stretching into the issue of climate change. According to the Guardian, people eat more meat than what is healthy for them or for the environment, and that the consumption of meat needs to decrease to help address the climate crisis. Currently, among mammals, 60% of the weight among mammals accounts for livestock, 36% accounts for humans, and only 4% accounts for wildlife. Through their products, cultured meat companies are trying to address this. Many people are not prepared to reduce or completely eliminate their meat intake, so slaughter-free may help address the climate impact of the meat industry.
While these companies can go a long way to reduce animal cruelty, the carbon emissions from the production of their product is still quite high, due to the high use of energy. However, when manufacturing is scaled up the carbon emissions will be lower than that of conventional meat. On the matter of land, the amount of land used to produce cultured meat is far less than conventional meat. However, according to Frontiers in Nutrition, livestock is used to fertilize land for farming. So while moving the market towards cultured meat will leave more room for wildlife, other agriculture may suffer from lack of fertilization.
Is Cultured Meat, Meat?
A substantial issue on the subject of cultured meat is whether it is, in fact, considered meat.
“I think so,” Junior Ava Lamichhane says. “In-vitro meat is considered the healthier meat which can help the environment and as well as the people”.
So far the industry has done a good job arguing that their product is meat. There is still much debate over the adjective used to describe it though. “Clean meat” was a contender, but was later dropped as it implied that conventional meat is “dirty.” Eat Just’s CEO Josh Tetrick says that whatever adjective is used it will later be dropped as it did with smartphones.
Still, some people disagree with it being called meat at all, with 12 states passing legislation against it. Some leaders in the industry are saying that it is not safe not calling cultured meat, “meat”, as some have allergies to meat. This argument may not have solid backing as any name the product adopts can still be known to those with allergies to avoid it. However, not using the word, “meat” to describe cultured meat greatly hurts the industry as it can not present its product as a more environmentally friendly way of still keeping meat in people’s diet.
The question also comes up whether cultured meat is vegetarian or even vegan. According to The Guardian, the UK Vegetarian Society that more information needs to be presented to make a decision whether the product is vegetarian or not. These questions would cover production, ethics, and ingredients. On the other hand, the UK Vegan Society, says the product is not vegan because “the initial cells are taken from animals.”
While cultured meat still has some challenges to face, the industry has an opportunity to introduce the world to a more environmentally friendly diet without totally eradicating meat from society. With so much of the weight of mammals accounting for just livestock, the biodiversity of our world is suffering and eliminating some of the space needed for livestock can help combat it. In addition, it prevents the mistreatment of farm animals, and may ultimately have a great impact on wildlife and climate change across the globe.