The future of slaughter-free meat
With an increasing amount of meat alternatives in today’s society, at what point will we be able to create a meat substitute so similar to meat that meat lovers will eat it – what if it is meat? Cultured meat is a form of meat that mimics meat at a cellular level allowing us to grow meat in a lab but why would we want to do this?
One of the most obvious benefits is the reduced use of factory farming. In the UK alone, each year approximately 950 million birds, 80 million fish, 14.5 million sheep and lambs, 10 million pigs and 2.6 million cattle are slaughtered for human consumption 1 and many animals are kept in abysmal conditions for their whole lives just for human benefits. If we could find a way to reduce the number of animals slaughtered each year we would be allowing animals to live their lives or not be raised in a world they’re brought in to only to die. Additionally to moral reasons, reducing animal farming would have huge benefits for the environment. In 2009, New Harvest funded a project that compared the environmental impact of cultured meat compared to conventionally produced livestock (conducted at Oxford University by Hanna Tuomusto).
“The results showed that production of 1000 kg cultured meat requires 26–33 GJ energy, 367–521 m3 water, 190–230 m2 land, and emits 1900–2240 kg CO2-eq GHG emissions. In comparison to conventionally produced European meat, cultured meat involves approximately 7–45% lower energy use (only poultry has lower energy use), 78–96% lower GHG emissions, 99% lower land use, and 82–96% lower water use depending on the product compared.” 2
Another benefit that people wouldn’t normally think of, is that cultured meat may be healthier for human consumption than conventionally produced meat. If meat is being produced in vitro, scientists may be able to alter profile of the essential amino acids and fat while also adding certain vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds. For example, scientists may be able to produce meat that is higher in protein and lower in fats making it more beneficial for humans, reducing the risk of some chronic diseases. Even though at the moment cultured meat is considerably more expensive than conventional meat, in the future it may become dramatically cheaper which may mean meat will be more widely available across the globe and may be available for people in less developed countries. 3 At the moment one major issue with conventional meat is the amount of antibiotics that are being pumped into the animals. Animals raised for consumption must constantly be given drugs to prevent them getting sick – they all live in close proximity of each other and being fed food they aren’t evolved to eat so are more vulnerable to illness. When humans eat the meat of these animals, they are slowly building up antibiotic resistant bacteria without even realising as over long time-periods common bacteria gets constant, low grade doses of bacteria.4 Cultured meat doesn’t have this issue as it doesn’t need to be filled with antibiotics, thus benefitting humans more than conventional meat.
But how does cultured meat work? There’s more than one way of creating meat in vitro, scaffolding techniques and self-organising techniques. For scaffold-based techniques, embryonic myoblasts or adult skeletal muscle satellite cells are multiplied rapidly then attached to a scaffold or carrier such as a collagen meshwork or micro carrier beads. This is then perfused (‘supplied with a fluid’) with a culture median in a stationary or rotating bioreactor. Through the introduction of a variety of environmental cues, these cells fuse into myotubes, which can then grow into myofibres. The myofibres are the part that can be harvested, cooked and eaten as meat. 5 In more basic steps: “starter” cells from domestic animals are harvested through biopsy and put on small cultures; these starter cells need something to grow on so they are placed on scaffolds which are biodegradable and can be made of od edible material like collagen beads; the cells are then made to grow by being placed in a special type of vat called a bioreactor with a growth medium which contains special nutrients which provide natural ‘environmental cues’ that tell the cells to start growing; this results in meat but in the form of ultra-thin sheets of muscle cells which are then vacuumed packed and sent to a meat processing facility to make ground meat. 6 This scaffolding technique is suitable for creating meat that is highly processed and has no bones like ground meat or a burger, but it is not effective for creating meat with a structure like steak. Creating meat with the structure and consistency of complex meat is another challenge entirely and would require different, more ambitious techniques such as self-organising techniques. 5 Benjaminson, Gilchriest and Lorenz some of the first scientists to use tissue-engineering techniques for the production of meat at the beginning of the 21st century. To do this they put skeletal muscle explants from goldfish in a wide range culture media and observed the different patterns of growth by recording the increase in surface area over a 7 day period.
“The results based on the medium were as – fetal bovine serum: 13.8 %, fishmeal extract: 7.1 %, shiitake extract: 4.8 %, maitake extract: 15.6 %. The explants were also placed in a culture containing dissociated Carassius skeletal muscle cells and an increase of 79 % in the explant surface area was recorded”
The main drawback of this research is the lack of blood circulation but Benjaminson has expressed confidence that he will be over to overcome this issue in the future. This explant method of growing cells can be applied to the production of meat as the tissue formed closely resembles meat.7
The first was made in 2013 by Professor Mark Post, of Maastricht University, and was tested by Hanni Ruetzler who said “I was expecting the texture to be more soft… there is quite some intense taste; it’s close to meat, but it’s not that juicy. The consistency is perfect, but I miss salt and pepper. This is meat to me. It’s not falling apart.” Josh Schonwald said “I think it will take a while. This is just to show we can do it.” 8
Cell culture/ scaffolding techniques
Tissue culture/ self-organizing techniques
Ethics where do you stop is it right to encourage people to eat more meat why not encourage vegetarianism
1 – Humane Slaughter Association, Frequently Asked Questions, Available at: https://www.hsa.org.uk/faqs/general (accessed 13/06/2018)
2 – Environmental, Hanna Tuomusto, June 17 2011, Enviromental impacts of cultured meat production (Abstract), Available at: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es200130u (accessed 13/06/2018)
3 – Food ; Nutrition, Ginger Hultin, February 27 2017 Lab-Grown Meat: Exploring Potential Benefits and Challenges of Cellular Agriculture, Available at: https://foodandnutrition.org/march-april-2017/lab-grown-meat-exploring-potential-benefits-challenges-cellular-agriculture/ (accessed 13/06/2018)
4 – The Washington post, Wonkbook: Why you should care that 70% of antibiotics go into animal feed, Ezra Klein, April 12 2012, Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/wonkbook-why-you-should-care-about-antibiotics-in-animal-feed/2012/04/12/gIQAOEfZCT_blog.html?noredirect=on;utm_term=.e3b001d87a40 (accessed 14/06/2018)
5 – Commentary: In Vitro-Cultured Meat Production, P.D. Edelman, D.C. McFarland, V.A. Mironov, J.G. Matheny, May 3 2005, available at: https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/ten.2005.11.659?journalCode=ten (accessed 14/06/2018)
6 – The Cultured Meat Blog, Meet Cultured Meat: how do they make that stuff?, February 24 2010, Available at: http://culturedmeat.blogspot.com/2010/02/ (accessed 14/06/2018)
7 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4648904/
8 – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23576143