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Lab-grown meat: We don’t know if it’s kosher, but we know it’s on the table

The US Food and Drug Administration has given safety clearance to lab-grown meat for the first time.

By René Lötter

Upside Foods, a California-based company that makes meat from cultured chicken cells, will be able to begin selling its products once its facilities have been inspected by the US Department of Agriculture.

Consumers are concerned about the climate effects of the meat industry as well as animal welfare. But farmers need to feed an estimated 10 billion people by 2050. Growing meat and seafood from animal cells is therefore not only a noble idea, it is something consumers will buy.

One of the first countries that is already producing edible cultivated meat grown from animal cells is Singapore.  Developed by U.S. start-up Eat Just, sample dishes have actually already been served at Club 1880.

Cultivated chicken from Upside Foods. Photo:

Cultivated meat does not only offer options for sustainability and animal welfare it also offers meat from other species. In South Africa, Mogale Meat Co. is developing a range of game meats without having to kill wildlife.  Cape Town-based Mzansi Meat Co. has also started cultivating.

Because Animals in Philadelphia, is already growing – and selling – pet food grown from mice and rabbit.

At least 24 countries have companies developing cultivated meat and awaiting regulatory approval

An AFMA symposium in Cape Town recently focused on the future of protein.

Dr Susanne Wiegel, Head of Alternative Protein Program & Investment Manager: Alternative Proteins, Nutreco NuFrontiers, The Netherlands, talked about how animal nutrition principles are vital to scale the cultivated protein industry

“With protein production we see a massive increase in greenhouse gas production. This message has also reached the consumer, so alternative proteins are trending. 

Grocery stores in Europe and the US have lots of vegetarian alternatives. This is called generation one of protein sources. We’ve also heard of the insect protein market. Projected to grow for human consumption and feed production.’’

Lab-grown meat is what’s called  generation two technology:  “You cultivate meat and fat cells outside of an animal to make the real thing. Cultivated protein provides new business opportunities for animal nutrition companies”, Dr Wiegel said.  We see strong growth in companies and funding.

What is cultivating meat/seafood?

“You start with any species such as cow, rabbit, even a mouse. Production takes a single cell from one animal, extracted with a needle either from muscle or other tissue or harvested from an animal’s eggs to start a cell line.

“The meat is grown by feeding the cells with nutrients that normally would come from the body of the animal – amino acids, glucose, vitamins, proteins and salts. A process called scaffolding can help the cells grow.. You take a bit of muscle and out of this you get muscle and fat cells. “These you can feed and nurture outside the animal and you optimise the nutrients,  you put this in a processor (think of brewing beer). Cells grow and make a slurry. You differentiate this and Voilà! This tech is actually not new. In fact they all come from the pharmaceutical industry in the past 30 years.”

A new type of input is needed for the cultivated protein industry. We have to combine cell feed with animal feed. To produce food high in quality and safety but at much lower cost – with efficient feed to food conversion.

Vitamins,  glucose and salt are the basic ingredients that go into cell culture. It is anyway in use in animal feed premixes.

Precision nutrition:

Also not much different to what we do with animals. “Working with partners so far we have very promising experimental results. We have tested food grade amino acids. They perform essentially the same as the farmer graded ingredient; we have seen the same with glucose.”

Feed grade ingredients are worth trying out.

Nutrients are not enough. Like the animal you need biological signals to grow. Feed additive platforms can also play a role.

KEY TAKE-AWAY: 2nd generation tech will allow us to have actual animal protein, real meat seafood /dairy while keeping sustainability promise. Animal nutrition principles may very well play a role in making it cost effective and facilitate upscaling.

Will it taste good and be affordable?

Nobody can know yet. But logic dictates that since cattle emit planet-warming gases,  if cells go directly into a fermenter or bioreactor to grow, there would be less environmental harm. Depending of course, on how much energy these machines use.

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