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Can we grow meat in a lab?
In 2020, Singapore’s food agency approved an item called ‘chicken bites’ from the US company Eat Just. These pieces of meat are not from slaughtering chicken but are instead grown in bioreactors.
Whilst producing hamburgers or chicken nuggets in a lab may sound futuristic, many companies are already producing meat in laboratories around the world. What exactly is lab-grown meat? How close are we to growing ‘real’ meat in a lab? We asked 2 experts in cell biology and biomedical engineering from Mosa Meat (a Dutch company that is working on cultured meat), ‘Can we grow meat in a lab?’, here is what they said…
Can we grow meat in a lab?
What is lab-grown meat?
Dr Joshua Flack, a cell biologist from Mosa Meat, says “‘Cultured’, ‘cultivated’ or ‘lab-grown’ meat, as it is variously known, is a promising biotechnology with the potential to reduce animal suffering and the impact of agriculture.” Cultivated meat is grown in artificial conditions such as a lab or factory. Cells are taken from animals and then maintained in a nutritious broth that allows them to multiply.
Why grow meat in the lab?
Professor Mark Post, a scientist who was the first to present a proof of concept for cultured meat, says “Making meat in this way could solve the coming food crisis, and help combat climate change. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that the global demand for meat is going to increase by 70% by 2050, and current production methods are not sustainable. If we want to provide meat for the growing population, we need a more efficient production method.”
There are also environmental reasons, Professor Post says “livestock contributes significantly to global warming through unchecked releases of methane, a greenhouse gas 20-30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It is projected that cultured meat production could generate significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions, helping us avoid the disastrous consequences of climate change.” As the cells are grown in a sterile environment lab-grown meat also requires less antibiotic usage than traditional farming.
What is the status of lab-grown meat right now?
Professor Post says “The production facility looks similar to a beer brewery. Cultivated meat is the same as conventional meat but, instead of slaughtering a whole animal, we produce the meat by growing animal cells. There are dozens of companies around the world working on making cultivated products - including beef, chicken, and seafood.”
Dr Flack says “This technology is still in a fairly early stage, and much further work remains to bring down the costs and increase the level of mimicry to traditionally-reared meat. Despite this nascency, there are already numerous proof-of-principle studies published in the scientific literature, and products already on the market in certain jurisdictions.”
What is the future for lab-grown meat?
Dr Flack says “the more interesting question is whether lab-grown meat will displace the majority of traditional meat within the near future (say 10-30 years). Although hard to predict, given the current trajectory of the technological improvements and the increasing awareness of the disastrous ecological impacts of animal agriculture, this seems likely.”
Some lab-grown meat is now available to buy, and those who work in the sector believe that lab-grown meat will become more popular in the future.
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