It is official. Lab-grown meat has been approved for sale in the United States, making the U.S. the second country worldwide to accept cultivated meats. Select restaurants in San Francisco and Washington, DC, can now add cruelty-free chicken to their menus. Two companies, GOOD Meat, and Upside Foods, both specialize in growing chicken meat from cells.
This breakthrough is a positive step toward preventing the death of thousands of animals raised for food each year. Instead of raising farm animals for slaughter, identical meats can be grown from cultured cells. The FDA certified these companies’ products safe to eat nearly a year ago and officially approved the sale of lab-grown chicken last week. Any other products, such as beef, pork, or seafood, will have to be individually approved for sale.
Saving Lives With Lab-Grown Meat
About 90% of United States citizens consume meat or meat products. This statistic means that approximately 70% of agricultural land is used to produce animal products, which is not an efficient way to use the land. Essentially, we are growing food to feed the animals to feed to humans. Other environmental concerns include water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, depleting natural resources, and more.
In addition, farm animals live in crowded, unsanitary conditions that create the perfect breeding ground for many bacteria, viruses, and other illnesses that could affect both humans and animals alike. Cultured meat could alleviate many, if not all, of these pressing problems. The meat products are grown in strictly controlled, sanitary lab settings. No live animals are harmed during this process. Scientists do not dump waste products into water supplies. Gas emissions will no longer be an issue. Zoonotic diseases will not have the opportunity to develop or spread when the meat is grown in this setting.
The resulting slab of meat is genetically identical to and tastes exactly the same as meat acquired from farmed animals but without slaughtering innocent beings. The overarching goal is “to create and design new methods of producing proteins, fats, and tissues that would otherwise come from traditional agriculture.”
How Is Cultured Meat Made
Growing chicken meat in a lab setting starts with an egg. Scientists sample stem cells from fertilized chicken eggs and test them for the criteria required to cultivate a culture successfully. The cells then go into stainless steel vats containing all the necessary nutrients to grow and develop. The cells start to adhere to one another and produce enough protein within a few weeks for harvest.
The current price of lab-grown meat may be prohibitive because the process is still relatively new. A new supply may be limited because labs can only currently produce smaller amounts. GOOD Meat’s cell agriculture director, Vitor Santos, says, “The biggest challenge right now is definitely building the manufacturing capacity.” As time passes and demand grows, labs will produce more cultured meat.
Consumers have varying opinions regarding meat cultured in a lab setting. Some are very receptive, while others may consider the process weird or dangerous. One survey indicated that about half of the current vegetarian population would be willing to try lab-grown meat. The same is true of at least 2/3 of the meat-eating population. “Ultimately, we think people will be more likely to switch if the product is actually meat,” says Josh Tetrick, chief executive of Good Meat.
Many individuals who follow vegetarian or vegan diets do so for environmental or ethical reasons, which means lab-grown meat will benefit both of these causes. However, those who opt for a vegetarian or vegan diet based on health may be much more likely to skip the product as it is derived from animal cells.
Adding Cultured Meat Into The Market
Currently, only two United States restaurants will offer cultivated chicken. Celebrity chef and GOOD Meat board member Jose Andres will serve this brand in one of his Washington, D.C., restaurants. Michelin-Starred restaurant, Bar Crenn in San Francisco, will serve UPSIDE Food’s cultured chicken.
When cultivated chicken products appear in grocery stores, they will display the USDA stamp of approval and the prefix “cell-cultured” to differentiate the product from traditionally farmed chicken. Other labels may say “cruelty-free” or “slaughter-free .”They will not, however, display a “vegetarian” label. The Vegetarian Society does not consider lab-grown meat vegetarian or vegan because the original cells come from live animals, even though they were not harmed or killed.
As much as our community dreams of a 100% vegan world, the reality is that a large portion of humanity is unwilling to quickly shift to an entirely plant-based diet, no matter how much pain, suffering, and adverse effects come from animal agriculture. Cultured meat is good news for the animals and the planet, making it good news, period. No matter how unappealing the thought of eating lab-grown meat may be for many in the vegan community, we are ready for the cultivated meat revolution if it saves billions of lives per year.