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Stem Cell Meat: The Novel Meat

Updated on July 22, 2020
Deepa damodaran profile image

Deepa is a freelance researcher and journalist. She writes and makes documentaries and videos.

The Novel Meat

Have you ever eaten meat with a pinch of guilt arising from the fact that an animal was killed to satisfy your hunger and taste buds? Recently, have you become afraid of eating meat as the world is seeing a rising threat of virus-driven diseases in humans, which could probably be caused by our meat-eating habits and meat production methods? There is a panacea on the anvil for such fears- the stem cell-based and lab-cultivated meat! Stem cell meat is about to capture the palate of meat lovers. All the vegetarians in the world who do not want to harm an animal but would like to explore wider food options can look forward to this new addition to the modern food bouquet. Another name for this lab-grown meat is, clean meat because the production of it does not require the cruel and unethical killing of animals. The scope of this new entrant in the meat market can be demonstrated in a simple example- one tissue sample from a single cow can potentially be grown into 20,000 pounds of meat.

How Stem Cell Meat is Made

The cells to cultivate stem cell meat are taken either from the muscles or the fat of an animal. Scientists isolate stem cells from an animal to cultivate laboratory-made meat. Then the cells are placed in a solution of nutrients required for growth. The solution is made up mainly of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats and is produced by pharmaceutical companies. As this solution is the food of the growing cells, it has to be in a very simple and absorbable form and content. The cells in the solution are then put inside a machine named bioreactor to encourage cell growth. It takes 4-6 weeks for the cells to multiply and grow into the meat. It is the primitive fibers that grow first and then they develop into muscle tissues.

Cleaner Meat

Cell meat is produced ensuring traceability; the customer can know from which animal and place the cells used to produce the meat are taken. The nutrients used in the cultivation of meat are public knowledge. Stem cell meat companies claim that they do not at all use any antibiotics, steroids, heavy metals, or microplastics at any stage of the cultivation of the meat. The meat is tested for any residue components after production to ensure it is clean. The unhygienic ways in which conventional meat is handled leaves it highly prone to getting a virus or bacteria-infected. However, the disadvantage of cultivated meat is that it does not have any bacteria in it, not even the good and beneficial ones. Hence the companies are planning to add good bacteria/probiotics into them.

Safety and Novelty

Cultivated meat can be cooked in the same way as normal meat but the stem cell technology for cultivated meat presently costs thousands of dollars and so the meat too. The high cost of stem cell meat is 90% caused by the high cost of the nutrient solution used to cultivate the meat. A few pharmaceutical companies who command monopoly over the production of the nutrient solution have kept the ingredients of the solution still a secret. The companies are claiming that by the end of this year and the beginning of next year, the cost of production can be dramatically reduced and a kilogram of cultivated meat can be sold at the price of 2 or 3 digits figures. They envisage doing this by developing their own nutrient solution. After growing the meat in the nutrient solution, companies are looking for processes and methods to turn the residual solution into a new product because it would have a lot of nutrients still remaining in it.

In terms of taste and smell, the cultivated meat after cooking cannot be differentiated from normal meat. Shiok Meats is currently in the process of cultivating shrimp meat that exactly looks like a shrimp in shape, color, and contours. The food regulators have placed cultivated meat in the category of novel meat. This is because it is a new food, untested in animals or humans, yet safe to eat.

Stem Cell Meat Start Ups

Plant-based meat and insect-based protein foods are the other new products that has entered the market as an alternative to conventional meat. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are the two major players in the market of plant-based meat. Mosa Meat, SuperMeat, Finless Foods, Future Meat, and Memphis Meats are companies, to name a few, who have entered the stem cell meat market. The production cost of Future Meat for a pound of chicken is currently $150 and for beef, $200. However, the costs are coming down very fast.

Meat farming in the world

World meat production is 320 million tonnes per year. Eighty billion animals are slaughtered every year so as to meet human food needs. In a hypothetical scenario where only stem cell meat is produced and no animal is slaughtered, human civilization could soar an unimagined level of moral and cultural height. However, meat farming and processing contribute to the livelihood of millions of farmers and factory workers. How to protect their livelihood in a scenario of massive stem cell meat production has to be the concern of governments, and to some extent, the stem cell meat production companies, if they want to hold up their moral high ground.

Impact on Environment

The major environmental impacts of conventional meat production include greenhouse gas emissions, ecological degradation caused by grazing, and the demand put on the land and freshwater. Interestingly, cultivated meat production requires 10 times more land use, water use, and energy use as compared to conventional meat production. So, stem cell meat companies are trying to reduce these ecological vulnerabilities.

How the Market Will Change?

Companies that produce cultivated meat think that there will be a huge change happening in the meat-based agriculture sector, once cultivated meat hits the market on a large scale. They predict that this will happen in the next 10 or 20 years.

New Concerns

Once stem cell meat or cultivated meat enters the market, how does the customer make sure that he/she is not being sold conventional meat in the name of cultivated meat at an exponentially higher price? What will be the long-term effect of eating stem cell meat upon the human digestive system? Such questions will remain relevant and crucial at least in the initial decades of stem cell meat.

© 2020 Deepa


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