While plant-based meats are common in grocery stores and restaurants, another alternative protein is on its way. Lab-grown meat, also known as cultivated meat, isn't vegan like plant-based products. However, animals aren't harmed to make the meat, and there's less environmental impact.
What Is Cultivated Meat?
Lab-grown meat is made directly from animal stem cells. The cells are cultivated in stainless steel vessels known as bioreactors and are fed nutrients such as amino acids, vitamins, and glucose. This causes the cells to grow into strands of muscle, fat, and connective tissue, which are then packaged into cultivated meat products. On a cellular level, these products are identical to conventional meat.
Is Lab-Grown Meat Vegan?
Cultivated meats aren't vegan, as they're produced with animal cells. However, they could be an option for consumers who choose vegan products because of concerns about animal welfare.
Cultivated meats are considered kind, clean protein sources. Unlike industrial livestock production, animals don't need to live in close confinement, require fewer antibiotics, and aren't slaughtered. There's also less risk of fecal contamination.
Why Researchers Are Growing Meat in Labs
Currently, more than three-quarters of farmland on the planet is used for meat and dairy livestock, but cultivated meat eliminates the need to raise animals for food. Cellular agriculture has clear environmental benefits compared to traditional agriculture: It uses less land and water and creates less greenhouse gasses and pollution. Currently, 60 companies on six continents are working to develop cultivated meat.
How Soon Can We Eat Cultivated Meat?
Although the first cultivated burger was publicly introduced in 2013 in the Netherlands, it cost $280,000 for one patty. Costs are dropping, but it will take some time for cultivated meat to be widely available, as companies need to produce at scale to make products accessible to consumers.
Cultivated meats also need regulatory approvals. Singapore is the first country to give the go-ahead for sales of lab-grown meat, with California-based Eat Just approved to sell its cultivated chicken. The company is providing products to one Singapore restaurant and plans to eventually expand.
Lab-Grown Meat Awaiting Green Light in the United States
In the United States, both the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture are inspecting labs and evaluating production processes to develop regulations around cultivated meats. Industry stakeholders hope U.S. approvals to sell lab-grown meat are issued as early as this year.