Does cellular meat contribute to agri-food sustainability?
In the light of climate change and the search for ways to limit the environmental damage that can be caused by livestock farming, could cell-based meat production offer a solution?
The increase in the world’s population, which is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, and concerns surrounding the impact of large-scale livestock farming mean a total rethink of the food system. Faced with the growing demand for animal products in a sustainable way, cell-based farming is emerging as a complementary solution for supplying the meat and other animal products that consumers love.
Cellular agriculture appears as a new way of producing healthy, safe food deemed compatible with the challenges of this century: respect for the environment and animal welfare, the fight against antibiotic resistance and food insecurity. The most common method of obtaining cells involves taking a small, painless biopsy of the muscle or a skin sample from a live, healthy animal.
The production of cellular meat involves growing animal cells in a bioreactor, a tank that provides a sterile, closed, temperature-controlled environment for the cells to develop into meat. It is therefore a genuine cell culture process, identical to that which occurs naturally in an animal’s body. “Synthetic meat”, “lab meat”, “in vitro meat”, “artificial meat” or “laboratory meat” are terms that can lead to confusion and do not refer precisely to this process.
Consumers in France and Germany’s potential acceptance of cellular meat
Once produced, cultured meat is similar to conventional meat. Researchers have already produced meat from a number of species using cellular agriculture. The list includes domestic and wild land animals (cows, bison, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, alpacas, kangaroos) and marine animals (salmon, mahi mahi, bluefin tuna, amberjack, grouper, shrimp, lobster).
Production is likely to last between 5 and 7 weeks for meat, more for other types of animal meat such as chicken, pork or salmon. The exact time effectively varies accord tp the species, cell type, culture conditions, scale and desired product.
Will cellular meat find acceptance among consumers? According to a study published in 2020 in the journal Foods by an international research team from the University of Bath (UK), Université Bourgogne Franche-Comté (France) and Ipsos (Germany), meat-free diets are becoming increasingly accepted in Germany and France. Only 45% of German respondents identified themselves as meat eaters/omnivores while 31% declared themselves as a flexitarian (meat reduction diet). Meat consumption was more common in France, where 69% identified themselves as meat eaters/omnivores and 26% followed a flexitarian diet.
This provides a good potential for cellular meat in the future. The same study found that, while a majority of consumers in France and Germany had not yet heard of cultured meat, 44% of French and 58% of German respondents said they would be prepared to try it, with 37% of French consumers and 56% of Germans prepared to buy it.
In June 2023, the United States Department of Agriculture gave Upside Foods and Good Meat companies the green light to start producing and selling their cultivated chicken products in the United States, the first step into a world of cellular meat and cold cuts. According to WhatIsCultivatedMeat.com, a US interdisciplinary knowledge base that explores the science of cellular agriculture, the most likely products to come from cellular agriculture will be ground meat, sausages and nuggets while foie gras, fish maw.
Top image credit: Mosa Meat