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How can meat be grown and cultivated in a lab?

Lab-grown meat can now be sold in the U.S., but some Americans are still hesistant to buy or consume it.
How can meat be grown and cultivated in a lab?
Posted at 4:43 PM, Jul 22, 2023

The Department of Agriculture recently gave final approval for two companies to produce meat created without animal slaughter: GOOD Meat and Upside Foods.

These companies producing lab-grown meat — or cultivated meat, as it's known in the industry — are making protein from cows, chicken, pigs and goats without harming or slaughtering any animals, not even using eggs or milk.

There's been $2.8 billion in investment in this new field, according to industry group the Good Food Institute.

But what is cultivated meat exactly?

"Cultivated meat is simply making the real meat that we eat every day outside of an animal, so taking real animal cells directly from a chicken and producing food directly from it" said Eric Schulze with Upside Foods.

The notion of lab-grown meat may seem bizarre. But Cecilia Chang, deputy CEO of Mission Barns in San Francisco, says if you've eaten cheese, you've probably already eaten lab-grown animal products.

"A great example is rennet," she said. "It's an enzyme used in cheese making that I think originally we sourced from the intestines of pigs or cows or something like that. But now it's recombinantly produced, which means we have a microbe that we train to produce rennet."

SEE MORE: Why do Americans consume so much meat?

Mission Barns makes bacon, sausages and meatballs using fat cells from pigs without harming any pigs.

"We take a sample of the fat, so it's a small, totally harmless sample," Chang said. "In the second step, we put it in a cultivator and feed it."

Sugars, proteins and vitamins help the fat cells grow in the tank.

"We also keep it at the same temperature as it would be in the body itself so 37 degrees Celsius, the same humidity, the same CO2 conditions," Chang said. "Then we wait. As it fattens up over time, we harvest it. We combine it, the fat with the plant protein, to create the products — the bacon that we make, the meatballs, the sausage."

Mission Barns is awaiting government approval.

The Department of Agriculture recently approved Upside Foods, in Berkeley, California, for final approval to sell its cultivated meat. Upside's meats include fat and muscle and no plant ingredients.

Traditional animal agriculture is responsible for more than 15% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN, which is more than cars. Plus, industrial farming poses risks of disease, pollution and loss of wild habitats.

As for Mission Barns' impact on animals, it's negligible.

"A donor pig, Dawn, that we took our original sample from is now living, roaming happily in a farm in upstate New York," Chang said.

Cost could be a big drawback for cultivated meat. The benchmark price for conventionally harvested meat is about $1 per pound, but various studies have estimated the cost for cultivated meat between roughly $3 to $18 per pound.

There's also the natural revulsion some customers may have to the idea of lab-grown meat.

"I think that's going to be the initial response for a fair number of folks, and I think the thing I would say is: Yes, there's something very natural about animal rearing and raising animals for food, but I would question how natural our modern industrial animal agriculture is," Chang said.

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