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Friday, February 3, 2023

Editorial: Is the World Ready for Lab Grown Cell Based Meat?

According to Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN, global meat consumption is expected to rise by 73% till 2050. This increase in demand has directly put a burden on the limited resources available on the planet. The inefficient and inhumane methods used in rearing of livestock for meat production are not only damaging the environment, but also human health. At such a time, it is crucial to combine technology with creativity to create sustainable alternatives to meat without harming animals, human health, or mother Earth. A step in this direction has come from companies creating lab-grown, cell-based meats. But what exactly is cell-based meat?

Cell-based meat is a replication of animal meat in its most genuine form. Also known as clean meat, lab meat or cultured meat, cell-based meat has the same corporeal and nutritional profile as that of conventional meat because it is made of real animal tissue. It is not mock meat made out of plant-derived products but one grown in a laboratory from animal cells. It is somewhat similar to cultivation of plants. But how?

Vegetables are sometimes grown using vegetative propagation in which a small part is cut from a parent plant and placed in a nutrient-rich environment. In the same way, while cultivating cell-based meat, a small sample of animal tissue is taken and placed in a nutrient-rich environment. On getting all important nutrients, the cells multiply and meat is formed. Thus, what we get is a humane and sustainable meat option!

cell based meat
The process of cultivating meat in lab is similar to cultivating plants. (Image Courtesy: The Good Food Institute)

Already a lot of companies have entered this space and are busy creating their own versions of cell-based meat. With the recent go ahead received by Eat Just from Singapore government for making its cell meat available for human consumption, the current scenario seems like the beginning of a revolution. Companies such as Avant, Mosa Meat, Aleph Farms, New Age Meats, Memphis Meats, BlueNalu, Eat Just, Shiok Meats, amongst others, are already in the race. In India, Clear Meat has emerged as one of the frontrunners in the cell-based meat space. Most companies have their focus on poultry and beef, while others such as Shiok and BlueNalu are eyeing cultivated seafood segment.

Are Consumers Ready for this Culinary Experiment?

In 2013, when Mark Post, a Dutch pharmacologist, presented the first cultured meat to the world, people looked at him with suspicion. But in 2020, he was listed by Prospect magazine as one of the greatest thinkers for the COVID-19 era!

However, it still seems too early to say anything conclusive about what the future holds for cell-based meat. Just like any new innovation, this too would see its fair share of resistance from consumers, conventional meat producers and even the government. This is mainly due to the perception of consumers who will see this as something unnatural, and even harmful. Genetically-modified crops are still facing a lot of resistance, despite several studies showing that they have no adverse impact on environment or human health. In fact, a lot of them have actually helped in curbing nutritional deficiencies in certain populations. Lab-grown meat might suffer the same fate.

A study was conducted in 2018 by researchers from the University of Bath, the Good Food Institute, and the Center for Long Term Priorities, to get a quantitative comparison of consumer attitudes towards plant-based and cultivated meat across China, India, and the U.S. It was found that 30% of U.S. consumers, 59% of Chinese consumers, and 50% of Indian consumers were either very or extremely likely to purchase cell-based meat regularly. Besides this, consumers were optimistic about the potential benefits of cell-based meat, including reducing environmental impact, eliminating the need to raise and slaughter animals, and reducing public health risks. The study paints a rosy picture for the future of cell-based meat.

With Singapore ready to give its people a taste of cultured meat, we should just wait and watch what comes next. The industry should currently focus on making these meats as natural as possible to avoid raised eyebrows and suspicions. Whether we vegans would be ready to experiment is still a complex question as the meat would still be derived from an animal!

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