By Joe C. Paschal
There has been much concern among livestock producers about research and commercial laboratories growing muscle fibers and their plans to market them as meat, specifically “clean” meat, in direct competition with the safe, wholesome, true meat we raise.
Meat is defined as “the flesh of an animal,” especially a mammal, used as food.
Promotion by livestock producers in the U.S. and the world and the growth in the world’s economy and population is projected to increase the demand for meat 73% by 2050.
Livestock production accounts for about 70% of the world’s arable land, and outside of major improvements in production efficiencies, meat could become less plentiful and affordable in the future. The objection is not that the lab-grown product should not be made to meet this demand but that it should not be called “clean” or “meat.”
To create the product, starter cells are removed from a live animal using a biopsy needle. These cells range from embryonic stem cells to mature muscle cells. Stem cells multiply more rapidly, but they are harder to isolate and direct to a specific product or cell type.
Mature cells are already developed, but they are harder to multiply. As a result, most companies experimenting with this technology are using satellite cells – adult stem cells that multiply at an acceptable rate but are already muscle cells. These are the same cells that are responsible for muscle recovery after an injury.
Currently the best growth medium for these cells is fetal bovine serum, collected from calf fetuses at slaughter. The cells must be attached to a surface to grow and must be stimulated to begin protein synthesis.
For products like “hamburger,” the muscle fibers are harvested and shaped into the final product. Product like a “steak” or a “chicken breast” will require a form or scaffold for shape. This scaffold will need to be either safe to eat or biodegradable. This scaffold must also be movable to simulate muscle movement in a live animal.
Proponents of laboratory-cultured meat tout its benefits in improved sustainability, environmental impacts, animal welfare, food safety and health. But many of these impacts are speculation based on small amounts produced only in laboratories and compared to data from livestock production already discounted by credible sources.
Nonetheless, it is a real deal. Lab-grown, cell-based or cultured, the product is already being planned and will likely be in the market the next few years. The trick is, what will it be called?