A look at how “cultured” meat works
A new term is causing heartburn for beef, chicken and pork producers: “Clean meat.”
The term is being used by supporters of the emerging science of meat grown in labs without slaughtering cows and chickens. But many in the conventional meat industry don’t want it to become the accepted moniker, saying it implies that the meat they produce isn’t clean.
Meat products grown by replicating animal cells are not yet on supermarket shelves, but the topic is getting enough attention that the Food and Drug Administration is holding a public meeting on “cultured” meat next month. The agency notes the technological considerations for these products are “complex and evolving.” One challenge is making sure the cells replicate the animal cells correctly, the agency says.
Here’s an overview of how the science works:
A sample of animal cells is taken and replicated using a culture that fosters their growth.
The FDA says animal cells can currently be produced from “starter cells” in machines where the cells are cultured to grow. Now companies are working to commercialize the process with techniques that allow complex tissues to form, the FDA says, similar to strategies being explored for human organ replacement.
Cultures provide nutrients, vitamins and minerals to help cells grow, but the ones currently on the market are too costly for commercially viable products, according to the Good Food Institute, which advocates and lobbies for meat alternatives. Companies are working on lower-cost alternatives, says Matt Ball, a spokesman for the Good Food Institute. Certain types of meat are also more structurally complicated.
“None of these companies are at the point where they’re producing marbled cuts of meat that have intricate three-dimensional structures,” Ball says.
The advocacy group says establishing a supply chain will be critical for commercialization, particularly for the ingredients that go into the culture and other materials.