The longer I’ve been on a carnivore diet, the more I was concerned about the environmental impact of billions of animals being slaughtered every year to satisfy the meat demand. I did some research on more sustainable meat, and that’s when I came across cultured meat.
At its core, cultured meat is meat grown from animal cells. I spent hours reviewing all the available information on cultured meat and talked with my nutritionist to gain different perspectives.
Here’s how this lab-grown meat is made and whether or not you should try it.
- Cultured meat is made by cultivating stem cells obtained from animals.
- Lab-grown meat isn’t the same as plant-based meat, and it’s not vegan.
- There are several benefits to lab-grown meat. Most importantly, it uses fewer resources than conventional meat production.
What is Cultured Meat?
Cultured, cultivated, or lab-grown meat is meat made from animal cells.
Cultured meat doesn’t come from animals raised for food but is made from cells that have the same structure and tissues as real animals. Lab-grown meats have the same nutrition profile as regular meat.
Currently, there are around 99 cultivated meat companies. The companies are backed by over $360 million in investments . Each of these companies is working on manufacturing cultured meat products.
Overall, lab-grown meat comes from real cells. The difference is that lab-grown meat cells grow in a lab, so there's a much smaller environmental impact compared to farm-raised animals.
Scientists harvest a small sample of cells from an animal and cultivate these samples to grow meat outside the animal’s body.
There’s no need to breed animals, keep them confined, or slaughter them to create meat cuts. The need to farm animals for food is completely eliminated.
Unlike traditional meat production, cultivated meat needs fewer resources and has lowered methane emissions, deforestation, water consumption and pollution, and illnesses born from food.
One study found that cultivated meat cuts the impact of meat on the environment by 92%, reduces air pollution by 93%, and uses 78% less water .
“Cultured meat has all the same fat, muscles, and tendons as any animal…All this can be done with little or no greenhouse gas emissions, aside from the electricity you need to power the land where the process is done.”
- Bill Gates, American Business Magnate & Philantropist
How is Cultured Meat Made?
Cultured meat is made by acquiring stem cells, also called pluripotent stem cells, from animals. These cells are acquired from live animals through minimally invasive methods.
Some cells can be acquired from embryos, and others can be obtained from a cheek swab or a blood draw.
The cells are grown in cultivators. They are fed a liquid that contains nutrients, such as amino acids, vitamins, glucose, proteins, and other growth factors. This is similar to what happens in an animal’s body.
Here’s how cultivated meat is made step-by-step:
- Starter cell selection — Refers to the selection of stem cells. These cells can self-renew and develop into specialized cells.
- Tissue engineering — Once stem cells are acquired from the animal, they need to be cultivated in an environment full of nutrients. This step mimics the growth of animal tissues and makes muscle fibers in a bioreactor.
- Growth medium — Cultured meat production needs specific environmental conditions. A growth medium is a gel or a liquid that contains the nutrients that support the growth of cells outside of the animals. Some companies used a fetal bovine serum for this. Nowadays, it’s a gel or liquid with fats and ingredients to create a finished meat product.
- Scaffolding — This is a structure that lab-grown cells grow on and around. This is done to make the cut that resembles the conventional meat we’re used to. Scaffolding can be natural, for example, collagen, gelatin, silk, synthetic, such as polyethylene glycol, or composite.
Finally, changes in the composition and cues from the scaffolding turn cells into skeletal muscle, connective tissue, and fat that make up meat. These cells are then harvested and packed into final meat products.
Overall, the cultivated meat process takes about five weeks upwards, depending on the kind of meat being cultivated.
Some companies are going beyond meat and are looking to create milk and dairy products in the lab.
Benefits of Cultured Meat
These are the benefits of cultured meat.
1. Better for the Animals
Creating cultivated meat doesn’t harm animals. The producers need to obtain animal stem cells, but this is a one-time, mostly painless extraction.
It’s much less painful and cruel than what animals go through when they are slaughtered for conventional meat.
Moreover, lab-grown meat can be created indefinitely from these cells.
Cultivated meat means there’s no need for harmful procedures in regular farming and no need to slaughter billions of animals.
2. Uses Fewer Resources
Livestock growth takes up around 70% of arable land on our planet . But, growing meat from cells can meet the demand for meat without having to raise more farmed animals. This means smaller agricultural resources are used.
Moreover, if we turn completely to cultivated meat, the land we use for meat production can be lowered by a massive 99% .
Turning to lab-grown meat also means fewer water resources used for real meat production. 92% of water usage currently goes to animal agriculture.
1 kg of beef needs over 15 liters of water . Cultivated meat can reduce water usage by 82% to 96%.
3. Better Food Accessibility
The human population is expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050 . This means more food will be needed for future generations, but we have limited land, water, and livestock resources.
Some studies show it’ll be impossible to raise enough animals to feed the coming population .
Cultivated meat uses only a fraction of the resources compared to conventionally produced meat and doesn’t require animals to be slaughtered. This means lab-grown meat can feed the growing population.
4. It’s Healthier
Lab-grown meat is cultivated using technology that can modify the profile of amino acids and fats. The manufacturers can enrich the meat with more vitamins and minerals.
Lab-grown meat is made in a sterile environment, not in a concentrated animal-feeding farm. This means fewer antibiotics are used.
Scientists can control the amount of fat in meat, reduce cholesterol, or even add heart-healthy fats, such as Omega-3.
Also Read: What Is the Healthiest Meat to Eat?
Negatives of Cultured Meat
1. Not Widely Available
Unlike plant-based meat, which can now be commonly found in supermarkets, cultured meat hamburgers, hot dog, and other cuts, aren’t available on the US market.
Cultivated meat manufacturers will have to meet a list of strict criteria to produce meat and get it on supermarket shelves.
Luckily, there is some progress regarding cultured meat availability. The FDA completed the first pre-market consultation for meat made from animal cells in November 2022, so there’s a high chance we could see lab-grown meat in supermarkets in the coming years .
2. Not Vegan
Cultured meat isn’t vegan because it comes from animal cells. A product must be plant-based and can’t be tested on animals to be classified as vegan.
Lab-grown meat is made from cell lines taken from high-quality animals, so it doesn’t fit the vegan criteria.
Also Read: Vegan vs Carnivore Diet
3. The Price
The first ever cultured meat hamburger cost over $300,000 to create. As technology progresses, the cost of cultured meat goes down.
Still, the price of cultured meat is expected to be at least a little higher than conventional meat, mostly because producing cultured meat requires expensive technology and electricity.
What Is Cultured Meat Made From?
Cultured meat is made from animal cells. These cells are grown in labs, and there’s no need to farm animals.
What Is the Difference Between Cultured Meat and Normal Meat?
The difference between cultured meat and normal meat is how the meat is grown. Lab-grown meat comes from cells harvested from animals and is grown in the lab. Normal meat comes from animals raised and killed for consumption.
Is Cultured Meat Healthier than Traditional Meat?
Yes, cultured meat is healthier than traditional meat. Lab-grown meat is developed in sterile and controlled conditions in a lab. Lab-grown beef isn’t given antibiotics, and there’s a minimal chance of foodborne illnesses and diseases transmitted by animals.
Should You Eat Lab-Grown Meat?
The lab-grown meat industry is still in its early stages. While we know how cultivated meat is made, we still don’t know how it impacts humans or its real effect on the environment.
Overall, lab-grown meat has huge potential. It can be healthier than normal meat and can satisfy the growing demand for meat.
Until lab-grown meat is approved for consumption, we’ll have to stick to traditional meat, provided that we obtain it from reliable suppliers.
For the past two years, ButcherBox has been my go-to meat delivery as it offers a huge selection of beef, lamb, pork, and seafood.
They sell grass-fed beef of the highest quality. Moreover, their animals are raised crate and cage-free and allowed to roam, which results in delicious flavor.