How ‘lab-grown’ meat can help the planet and our health

By Kristen Rogers, CNN

What if there was a way to eat meat without farming and killing billions of animals annually, contributing to the climate crisis And the risk of high cholesterol levels?

“Grown meat is real meat grown directly from animal cells,” Uma Valiti, founder and CEO of Upside Foods, said via email. “These products are not vegan, vegetarian or vegan – they are real meat made without animal.”

“The process of making cultured meat is similar to brewing beer, but instead of culturing yeast or microbes, we grow animal cells,” Valletti added.

Scientists start by taking a small cell sample from livestock animals such as cows or chickens, then determine which cells can reproduce.

“From there, we put these cells in a clean, controlled environment and feed them with the essential nutrients they need to reproduce normally,” Valletti said. “In essence, we can recreate the conditions that naturally exist within the animal’s body.”

“It’s meat without slaughter,” Christiana Musk, founder of Flourish*Ink, said at the Life Itself conference, a health and wellness event presented in partnership with CNN. Flourish * ink is a platform to organize and stimulate conversations about the future of food.

A spokesperson for Mosa Meat, a Netherlands-based food technology company, said that as progressing from lab production to manufacturing products in commercial facilities, some companies are moving away from the term “lab-grown meat.” Instead, these companies refer to cultured meat, cultured meat, cell-based or cell-grown meat, or non-slaughterable meat.

In addition to mitigating the slaughter of animals, farmed meat can also help slow climate change caused by emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. The diet is responsible for about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, most of which come from animal husbandry. Transportation needed for agriculture emits both methane and carbon dioxide, and clearing land and forests — including for agriculture — emit carbon dioxide, according to the United Nations.

said David Kaplan, professor of biomedical engineering at Tufts University. Waste streams containing carbon dioxide and methane are responsible for the large fluxes of emissions into the atmosphere.

The industry is about 10 years old, so farmed meat still has a few years of being commercially available to American consumers in grocery stores or restaurants — and possibly up to another 20 years to replace much, or all, of the traditional meat industry, Kaplan said. At this time, Singapore is the only country that has approved cell-based meat for consumer consumption.

Until then, cultured meat and its potential benefits to animal, human and environmental health are more hope than promised.

How it works

The cultured meat industry relies on the field of tissue engineering — growing human tissue in the lab for medical repairs and regeneration, Kaplan said.

Scientists obtain cell samples from animals by harvesting a small piece of tissue taken from a biopsy, isolating cells from conventionally grown eggs or meat, or obtaining cells from cell banks. Josh Tetrick, CEO of Eat Just, Inc. Inc., a California-based company that makes vegan egg substitutes, these banks already exist for purposes such as drug and vaccine development. Good Meat is the company’s grown meat division.

Kaplan said the biopsy method is “like a human biopsy.” “In principle, fine animal then.”

The second step is to determine the nutrients – vitamins, minerals, and amino acids – that cells should consume. In the same way that conventionally farmed chickens own the cells and obtain nutrients from the soybeans and corn that they are fed with, isolated cells can absorb nutrients fed in a lab or facility, Tetrick said.

These cells go into the nutrient bath of a bioreactor, which is a large stainless-steel vessel that “has an internal process by which you move the cells under a certain pressure to create an environment that allows cells to grow efficiently and safely,” Tetrick said. “That could be used to make vaccines or make drugs, and treatments — or, in our case, it could be used to feed people.”

He added that this process is basically the manufacture of raw meat.

Tetrick said a hive sample takes about two weeks to grow to the desired size, which is “about half the amount a chicken can take in.” The meat is then turned into the final product, whether it’s a chicken breast or a solid nugget, a beef burger or a steak.

“The great thing about it is that you can start tweaking the texture,” Kimbal Musk, chef, philanthropist, co-founder and CEO of The Kitchen Restaurant Group, told Life Itself. “Alternative meat can be very spongy or very hard, and frankly, even spoiled chicken can be. With this technological approach to things, you have the ability to tweak that and really tweak it to get a color palette that interests you.”

“It was probably my first time cooking this two years ago, and I tried it again this morning,” he said during a June 2 session of Life Itself. “It’s significantly better, which means that the technology is constantly improving.”

Kimbal tried Upside Foods’ chicken breasts cooked during a Life Itself session. The texture and fiber of the chicken was nearly identical to that of regular chicken, but the flavor profile seemed to be missing some elements that I couldn’t put my finger on.

Work is still underway to make cultured meat as similar to regular meat as possible. However, this discrepancy may also be due to the fact that the flavor of traditional meat is influenced by many factors involved in the agricultural process, as I learned from Valeti – including the conditions in which the animals are raised and the feed they are served.

A panacea for the stove and health?

“Whether it’s animal welfare, climate, biodiversity or food safety,[there are]a lot of really important reasons to change the way we eat meat,” Tetrick said.

For example, few animals would have to be raised or used for growing meat, so hundreds of millions of acres of land would not be required to grow fodder for them.

“The holy grail, if we all do our job right, is that you only need one animal in the initial biopsy,” Kaplan said. “You can do what we call ‘immortalizing’ those cells so they spread out forever.”

A single cell can produce hundreds of billions of pounds of meat, Tetrick said. “There is no ceiling.”

intergovernmental The 2022 Panel on Climate Change Assessment Report states that farmed meat is an emerging food technology that could significantly help reduce global emissions from food production, due to “land and water reduction and nutrient impacts”.

Whether grown meat requires less water is debatable and remains to be seen, Kaplan said, “because you still need a lot of water for cell farming.”

And cellular farming may or may not lead to a significant reduction in energy use, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Tetrick said reducing human encroachment on land and oceans for agricultural use could also preserve biodiversity.

Nutrition quality and its implications for human health are areas where “I think farm-raised meat can really shine, because the process is much more controlled than conventional farming,” Kaplan said. “You have more control over the inputs and outputs to the system, which means less chance of contamination and less chance of diversification. … You can be kind of sure that only the best parts of the meat end up in the meat you make or grow, as opposed to the animal where you have some kind out there. .”

These customization possibilities include modifying nutrient profiles, “whether it’s less saturated fat and cholesterol, or more vitamins or healthy fats,” Valletti of Upside Foods said. “Imagine if we could produce a steak with the fatty acid profile of salmon.”

Eating a lot of saturated fat and cholesterol can increase your risk of heart attack or stroke.

Traditionally farmed animals are given high doses of antibiotics to fight disease or contamination from bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli, Valletti and Tetrick said.

“You have a lot of chickens in a facility and they have to cut their throats,” Tetrick said. “You have blood and you have feathers and live animals bumping into each other. Or (with farmed meat), you have a stainless steel bowl completely wrung out without all of that.”

Because grow-meat producers don’t expect to use antibiotics — or at least large amounts — farmed meat can also alleviate the problem of antibiotic resistance in humans, Kaplan said. Grown meats should also not need synthetic growth hormones, which is the subject of controversy over their potential impact on human health, puberty and cancer. The FDA confirms that approved synthetic hormones are safe for humans who eat processed animal meat.

And because farmed meat requires less contact with animals and the use of their habitats, it may also reduce the risk of the virus spreading from animals to humans, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

According to the United Nations, the two most important causes of zoonoses – Covid-19 – are the increasing demand for animal protein and unsustainable agricultural intensification.

“This field is not initially intended to replace traditional animal farming. “There are a lot of needs right now,” Kaplan said. “But it will start slowly and build up.”

As promising as it may sound, it’s unclear if some aspects of the cultured meat will pose a problem.

It remains to be seen the affordability of consumers.

While people in Singapore can enjoy cultured meat, Americans are awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture. These agencies announced in 2019 that they would jointly oversee the production of farmed animal foods to ensure that marketed products were “safe, unadulterated, and honestly labeled.” They began looking for insights into labeling in September.

“The naming is one of the things to work on with the regulators, because it’s real meat,” Valletti told Life Itself. “If someone has, let’s say, an allergy to meat or fish, they should know that this is real meat. So, it will be called meat but the prefix is ​​what we are working on.”

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics emphasized “the need for a better understanding of the long-term health effects of farmed meat and poultry products,” according to a comment letter sent to the USDA. “There is also little information available about the nutrient bioavailability, or nutrient density, of farmed meat and poultry products.”

On Life Itself, Christiana said the topic of meat is “a very difficult topic because it is culturally charged”. “It has all these trade-offs between access, health, sustainability, animal welfare, and of course, since my husband cares as a chef, taste is a really important thing to keep in common. It’s an issue of great debate.”

But if the farmed meat ends up checking all the important boxes, “it would be a huge achievement when people can eat the meat they love without being slaughtered,” Valletti told CNN in an interview.

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CNN’s Fred Zakaria, Amy Deyat, Daniel Weiner Brunner, and Michelle Toh contributed to this report.