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article imageWhy lab-grown meat will soon be in stores

By Tim Sandle     Feb 28, 2017 in Science
Meat grown in a laboratory could soon be on the shelves of grocery stores and supermarket thanks to advances in technology that have made the production costs lower, as well as easier to manufacture. The key question is: would you try it?
Lab-grown meat represents a relatively new area for scientific development and business investment. The technology comes under a variety of different descriptors:
Cultured meat,
Synthetic meat,
Cell-cultured meat,
Clean meat,
In vitro meat.
Of these variations, including 'lab-grown meat', the most accurate description is probably 'cell-cultured meat.' Semantics aside, what is 'lab-grown meat'?
Lab-grown meat
Lab-grown meat is meat grown in cell culture instead of inside animals, and it is a type of 'cellular agriculture'. With the process, the meat is produced using the same tissue engineering techniques traditionally used in regenerative medicine.
The Australian meat industry's research and development corporation  Meat and Livestock Austral...
The Australian meat industry's research and development corporation, Meat and Livestock Australia, says "promoting red meat as part of a healthy, balanced diet is important"
Sebastien Bozon, AFP
The idea of lab-grown meat dates back to the 1930s and, some science historians claim, to Winston Churchill. Certainly there's a quotation attributable to Churchill which runs: " We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium" (uttered by the statesman in 1931).
The biggest breakthrough occurred in 1971 when scientist Russell Ross achieved in vitro (the technique of performing a given procedure in a controlled environment outside of a living organism) cultivation of muscular fibers. Things went quiet until 1991 when U.S. researcher Jon F. Vein filed for a patent = for the production of tissue engineered meat for human consumption. Then, in 2001, Wiete Westerhof (University of Amsterdam) filed a worldwide patent on a process to produce cultured meat. Other laboratories followed and there are now over 30 around the globe undertaken research.
The science
The techniques needed for developing cultured meat require a technologist to take muscle cells and then apply a protein that triggers tissue growth. Genetic engineering is not required, although a process to extract muscle tissue from other tissues is needed. Once this is complete, the extracted cells can be replicated to create trillions of copies. As the process starts, meat is produced. In theory this can go on indefinitely, although this has yet to be tried. In theory, at a practical level, two months of cultured meat production can produce up to 50,000 tons of meat from just ten pork muscle cells.
File photo: Scientist working in a laboratory
File photo: Scientist working in a laboratory
CDC Photo Credit: James Gathany
Cultured meat is often produced as strips of muscle fiber. These are developed through the fusion of precursor cells (such as embryonic stem cells or the types of specialized satellite cells found in muscle tissue). Stem-cells are the templates from which specialized tissue such as nerve or skin cells develop. The culturing process occurs under defined conditions inside a bioreactor. Preservatives are added to prevent microbial spoilage. An alternative approach is to use artificial circulatory systems to distribute nutrients and oxygen, with the idea of producing cultured meat on a larger scale.
What have scientists done so far?
From early beginnings a full lab-grown cultured beef burger patty was produced in 2013, engineered by Dr. Mark Post at Maastricht University. The burger was shown to and eaten in front of a media gathering in London. The overall reception was positive. For instance Austrian food researcher Hanni Ruetzler 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."
More recently, in December 2016 the U.S. company Memphis Meats fried the first-ever lab meatball.
While the taste was reported to be good the cost was high, at some $18,000 per pound. Another U.S. firm, Modern Meadow, is working on what it terms as “steak chips”; these are a cross between a potato chip and beef jerky. Another imitative rests with SuperMeat, an Israeli startup that is developing a way to use chicken tissue to grow meat.
The drivers for lab-grown meat
Lab-grown meat is not simply a scientific experiment conducted in isolation from the worlds of business and politics; in-fact is these realms that provide some of the drivers pushing the development of lab-grown meat.
Taking economics first, from 2013 the price of lab-grown meat has fallen from around $325,000 for five ounces to an average price of $11.36. This means, notes, the meat is 30,000 times cheaper. Looking a politics second lab-grown meat , has been heralded by some as providing the means to help us eradicate global famine.
A third area of consideration is with aiding the environment in terms of having a lower impact than with traditional meat production. Land currently utilized for meat production could be handed back for agriculture use. The impact on global warming would also be lower, with fewer animals bred and this lower methane emissions (cattle farming contributes around 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions). Given the projected global growth in meat eating something that is more sustainable, such as lab-grown meat (as well as plant based alternatives) is likely to be welcomed by environmentalists.
These benefits have been summed up by Isha Datar, head of the company New Harvest, a non-profit U.S. based research organization that funds research into lab-grown meat. Datar has stated: "Animal culture right now is extremely detrimental to animals, human health and the environment."
A related area, crossing the environment-health divide is that the large scale production of cultured meat does not require artificial growth hormones to be added to the process. Another plus factor is that they'll be no need for the controversial practice of administering antibiotics to animals (something which fuels antibiotic resistance), which is done by some farmers to help make meat leaner.
One aspects of health which is less clear relates to the associations between a diet high in red meat and a greater chance of developing some forms of cancer. The issue here is that scientists are unsure what aspects of red meat are likely to trigger cancer so it cannot be said with certainty that lab-grown meat won't have exert a carcinogenic effect. This leads to the question of who will regulate lab-grown meat? Should it, in the U.S. say, fall under the auspices of the Food and Drug Administration?
When will lab-grown meat appear in stores?
Although researchers have produced lab-grown meat in small quantities there are technical challenges associated with scaling-up which means cultured meat has not, at least yet, been commercialized. It remains there is no large-scale production laboratory, which is due to the high energy costs involved with lab-grown eat production. It is this side of the process - lowering the energy cost - that requires the most attention if lab-grown meat is to become a viable alternative to animal reared meat.
The cereal aisle in a supermarket.
The cereal aisle in a supermarket.
Digital Journal
The Dutch team behind the 2013 burger are hopeful they will have lab-grown meat in stores by 2020. The lead scientist, Peter Verstrate, told the BBC recently: "I feel extremely excited about the prospect of this product being on sale. And I am confident that when it is offered as an alternative to meat that increasing numbers of people will find it hard not to buy our product for ethical reasons".
The vegetarian question
A further interesting point is with vegetarians and vegans. Is it ethical to eat laboratory grown meat? The answer to this will rest of the reasons for a person becoming a non-meat eater. If the reasons are to avoid cruelty to animals then there could well be no moral objection to eating lab-created meat. However, if the reasons are related to balking at eating flesh in any form at all, then the answer could well be no. This issue is one that will be hotly contested should laboratory grown meat be commercialized.
Moreover, for certain cultures decisions will need to be made as to whether lab-grown meat falls under the strict laws relating to kosher (food that may be consumed, according to Jewish dietary laws) and halal (Islamic) laws.
The big question
With all the various aspects to lab-grown meat raised in this article considered, the big question to weight up, and which ultimately comes down to personal preference, is: would you try it?
More about labgrown meat, Cultured Meat, Meat, laboratory grown meat
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