A few years ago it seemed impossible that meat could be grown in the lab without the need to kill an animal. However, food technologists took up this challenge and at the moment a dozen of start-ups are fine-tuning their production process of lab-grown or in vitro meat. An American company, JUST, already sold lab-grown sausages to restaurants. The world’s first lab-grown meat restaurant recently opened in the Netherlands, Bistro in Vitro, where you can taste animal-friendly foie gras or nuggets from a long-extinct species, the dodo.
In 2013, the first successful in vitro beef burger was made by Mark Post at the University of Maastricht out of stem cells from a cow’s neck. At that stage, the production process was extremely costly. Companies, however, succeeded at lowering production costs by scaling up the production and current technologies allow them to produce several meat varieties. While in the beginning only meat varieties without a real structure could be produced, like sausage, now also more complex structures that integrate both muscles and fat, like steak, have successfully been produced. Another challenge that this industry faces is the growth medium used to grow the cells. Original a fetal bovine serum (FBS) was used, this serum is retrieved from the blood of a bovine fetus at the moment a pregnant cow is slaughtered. Nowadays, companies are searching for plant-based growth mediums, as to make the entire process animal free.
A schematic representation of the entire process can be found in the figure below (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Schematic representation of the production process of lab-grown meat.
In vitro meat could provide a solution to one of today’s major challenges, climate change and to environmental issues like deforestation since no methane is emitted and less land is needed. However growing meat in the lab is not necessarily more environment-friendly a recent study concludes. The environmental impact will highly depend on the efficiency of the future growth mediums and the level of sustainable energy that will be used during the production process.
Although in vitro meat seems very promising, more research to make the production process entirely animal-friendly and to calculate the environmental footprint of the entire process is definitely needed.
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