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Stem Cell Meat: The Novel Meat

Updated on September 3, 2021
Deepa damodaran profile image

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


Stem Cell Meat Has Arrived

Many people eat meat with a pinch of guilt added by the fact that an animal is killed to satiate their hunger and taste buds. Recently, eating meat also became a risky affair as the world sees a rising threat of viruses-induced diseases in humans, where the source of these viruses could be animal meat. 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. One can only imagine the scale of growth and economy possible.


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 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.

Stem Cell Meat is Cleaner Meat

Stem 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 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 viral and bacterial infections. All the above render stem cell meat healthier when compared to conventional meat. However, the disadvantage of cultivated meat is that it does not have any bacteria at all in it, not even the good and beneficial ones. Hence the companies are planning to add good bacteria/probiotics into them and the process is in pipeline.

Safety and Novelty

Cultivated meat can be cooked in the same way as normal meat. However, the stem cell technology for cultivated meat presently costs thousands of dollars and so does the meat too. Ninety percent of the high cost of stem cell meat comes from the cost of the nutrient solution used to cultivate it. The pharmaceutical companies who command monopoly over the production of the nutrient solution keep the ingredients of the solution still a secret. The stem cell meat companies claimed in 2017 that in two years, the cost of production could be dramatically reduced and a kilogram of cultivated meat would be costing only 2 or 3 digits figures. In 2019, a pound of chicken produced by Future Meat was in the market at a price of $150. The companies are developing their own nutrient solution and bioreactors instead of depending on the pharmaseutical sector for these inputs. 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.

Stem Cell Meat Start-Ups

Plant-based meat and insect-based protein foods are the other new products that enter 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 Technologies, and Memphis Meats are companies, to name a few, that have entered the stem cell meat market. The costs of different stem cell meat are coming down very fast.

Meat Farming in the World

In 2020, Bill Gates made headlines by asking the world to avoid eating real meat and switch to synthetic meat; the reason, the high toll that the meat industry causes on climate change. The world's conventional meat production is 320 million tonnes per year. Eighty billion animals are slaughtered every year to meet human food needs. 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 on to their moral high ground.


Impact of Stem Cell Meat Production on the 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 will Stem Cell Meat Change the Market?

Companies that produce cultivated meat think that there will be a huge change 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. Meat Giants such as Tyson Foods Inc. are already investing hugely in plant-based and stem cell-based meat production.

A stem cell lab
A stem cell lab | Source

New Concerns

Once stem cell meat or cultivated meat enters the market on a big scale, how do the customers make sure that they are not purchasing conventional meat at a higher price? What will be the long-term effects of eating stem cell meat upon the human digestive system? What will happen to the conventional meat farmers once the demand for real meat declines? Such questions will remain relevant and crucial at least in the initial decades of stem cell meat consumption.

© 2020 Deepa


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