By- Christina Sandra Singh image courtesy- EUFIC
Nowadays, meat can be available in markets by slaughtering various animals or by growing meat in laboratories. Lab-grown meat or cultured meat is the meat that is created in laboratories artificially from the cells of various animals by culturing these cells in vitro. The other names for this kind of meat are Cultivated Meat or Cell-Based Meat. To produce lab-grown meat, scientists take cells (muscle, fat, stem or any other cell) of live animals and then apply tissue engineering techniques to them to grow them into proper meat.
Many consumers show less interest in meat and meat products and have reduced confidence to consume such meat foods due to many zoonotic diseases, health problems, more chances of food-borne illness, climate change due to livestock and farming, and damage to animal welfare associated with such type of foods. Considering these consumers, lab-grown meat products are introduced to the market by many innovative food companies, so that such consumers get confidence to eat meat without killing animals and impacting the environment. However, current studies indicate that people are still quite reluctant to accept cultured meat, although acceptance can be increased by the way information about the product is presented.
The steps of production of cultivated meat-
1) Sample taking: This is the first step in the production of lab-grown meat. It involves taking a sample of stem cells like blood, muscle, or liver cells from the bodies of live animals. These cells can develop into other specialised types of body cells
2) Putting in Bioreactors: After collecting the stem cell samples, they are put into large tank-shaped bioreactors which contain cultured media. This media helps the samples to grow and multiply by facilitating essential nutrients and a suitable environment similar to what the animal’s body provides.
3) Changing the culture media: This step involves changing the culture media in the bioreactors. It is done to enable the stem cells to differentiate into three main meat components—muscle, fat, and connective tissue.
4) Scaffolding: The final major step includes the process of scaffolding which is the separation and arrangement of these cells to ‘build’ the type of meat that is to be formed. While scaffolding is a process, the scaffold is an edible material that helps the organisation of meat cells into the desirable form and shape by holding the cells together, carrying nutrients, and aiding cells to differentiate further.
As this concept of lab-grown meat is still new, many consumers are unaware or doubtful about the ‘fit-for-consumption’ property of this kind of meat. The question is still in various minds—if cultivated meat is safe to be consumed in the future or not. According to various research, there are a few benefits as well as disadvantages of lab-grown meat.
Advantages of lab-grown meat-
The idea of this kind of meat was initially proposed and came into action to reduce the massive slaughter of different animals in order to produce meat for consumers and meet market demands. Therefore, lab-grown meat can reduce the butchering of animals in large volumes and also aid to fulfill the protein the demand of nations and the consumers living in them.
Cultured meat, furthermore, can help to reduce overall pollution and climate change and save natural resources like water and land. In contrast to the production of meat by feeding, sheltering, and later slaughtering animals, the technique of lab-grown meat requires less land, resources, and other factors that might adversely affect our ecosystem and climate.
Also, lab-grown meat can meet all the nutritional requirements for consumers same as conventionally produced meat. Companies are working to produce cultivated meat with the exact amount of amino acids, nutrients, and other elements like the normal meat produced out of butchered animals. This can provide the consumers with the same nutritional benefit which they seek while purchasing normal meat products.
Moreover, this new trend can help in making meat accessible to our growing population. With the rapid increase in the world’s population, more food will be required to feed the future generation. According to research, it will be difficult to raise enough animals to provide protein food for the entire population in future years. In this case, the lab-grown meat trend can be beneficial to meet the requirements in the future.
Disadvantages of lab-grown meat–
On the other hand, there are few demerits related to this kind of meat. Firstly, there are concerns that the taste of cultivated meat may not appeal to all consumers. When this meat will be launched in all the markets, few consumers may like it and find it similar to conventionally obtained meat, whereas few may downright reject its taste. This can prove to be a big issue in the future to set and expand the market for lab-grown meat.
Secondly, lab-grown meat is very expensive to produce through specialized instruments and techniques. This makes these meat and meat products too expensive to be afforded by every consumer. Consumers belonging to the middle class and poor financial category may not opt for this kind of meat given to its higher cost of purchase.
Moreover, there is a big confusion about the safety regulation of cultured meat. Currently, there is confusion about whether lab-grown meat should fall under the USDA’s or FDA’s jurisdiction. The former regulates meat and its production, while the latter oversees dairy, food safety, and imitation meat products. For consumers, the safe regulations of this meat and knowing that it’s fit for consumption is an important aspect of confirming their purchase.
Also, consumers might be less comfortable feeding on this artificially produced meat and meat products due to less clarity of this product and the newness of the trend. This can pose a big issue in making lab-grown meat a success in the market and convince the consumers to adopt this option rather than directly going for butchered meat.
In conclusion of this debate, lab-grown meat is still not introduced in every market and many consumers are still unaware of, the pros and cons of this kind of meat. It’s still dependent on the consumers whether they purchase lab-grown meat and meat products and help its market to grow or not. Cultured meat needs to be biologically equivalent to traditional meat. Cultured meat will be successful in the market if its texture, color, flavor, and nutritional characteristics are more or less similar to naturally-obtained meat