Cultured meat, also known as cultivated meat, is produced by cultivating animal cells in an in vitro process. This is an innovative process, which essentially cuts out the need to farm, raise and slaughter animals while meeting consumer demand. The process involves providing starter cells with a growth medium and placing these in a bio reactor where they can develop fat and muscle, in a way that is identical to a normal animal.
In 2013, Dutch Scientist Mark Post presented the first cultured meat burger on live television. By 2015, four cultured meat companies were founded, the industry has continued to expand and there are now over 60 companies spread across six continents.
According to Forbes, the burger created by Post cost $330,000, which says a lot about the affordability of cultivated meat. However, as governments across Europe and the Middle East continue to recognize the advantages of cultivated meat as a potential disruptor to the meat industry, they have increased funding in support of these companies.
“In Tel Aviv – and around this country and the world – startups and institutions are testing ways to bring the futures of agriculture, meat, and tech closer together” says Danielle Nierenberg, co-founder of the non-profit organization Food Tank. Countries around Europe, Africa and the Middle East are all working on innovative ways to make cultured meat a viable option for consumers.
Aleph Farms, a company based in Israel is one of many to have made strides in its development of cultured meat. Although the product has not yet been released for commercial consumption, Nierenberg from Food tank, says she got the opportunity to try a sample of the cultured meat and is now, more than ever, looking forward to how technology can help achieve a future with a sustainable food system.
“The Netherlands is currently leading the race in the development of cultivated meat and the country made history in April this year. when the government awarded €60m to support the creation of a national cellular agriculture ecosystem as part of the country’s National Growth Fund”, says Mathilde Alexandra at ProVeg International, an international plant-based food awareness organization. The UK, Spain, Germany and France are all among the top countries in Europe leading the development of cultivated meats.
Just like with many aspects of human consumption, the agricultural industry has become increasingly unsustainable in order to keep up with consumer demands, “we know for certain that our current industrial method of raising livestock is unsustainable both environmentally and socially”, Nierenberg says.
In recent years, the unsustainability of the agricultural industry has led to strong demands for change across the globe. The climate targets set out by the 2015 Paris Agreement, which was ratified by 192 countries plus the European Union, show a strong commitment from countries all over the world to tackle climate change. “The fossil fuel industry needs to be reformed, and so does the meat, dairy, egg and seafood industries,” Jasmijn de Boo, vice president of ProVeg International, said.
In line with this new movement, the agricultural industry has made advances intended to reduce the volume of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced by farming and raising livestock. A report produced by, ProVeg International states a range of alternative protein solutions including: transitioning from grazing dairy cattle to growing alternative protein crops; producing plant-based milks; fermentation-derived protein; cultured meat; vertical farming; algae aquaculture; and regenerative farming and carbon credits for alternative uses of land.
Plant-based meat alternatives, which produce half the amount of GHG emissions of traditional meat production, have been a positive step towards reducing CO² and methane emissions however, according to ProVeg, there has been a major step backwards in the fight to tackle the reduction of GHG emissions produced in agriculture. Countries such as France and South Africa have introduced new laws to protect animal-based industries.
“The French decree banning plant-based foods from using words such as “meat” and “sausage” protects and promotes animal-based diets. But the latest IPCC report makes it clear that a shift to plant-based diets will help tackle the climate crisis,” de Boo said. These retrogressive laws, challenge the sustainable advancements made in the agricultural industry, however, the innovation of cultured meats may prove to be a game changer for the industry.
No livestock required
Cultured or cultivated meat differs from ‘normal’ meat as it does not require the slaughter of animals. The meat is grown in a laboratory from animal cells, so it is real animal flesh. However, unlike ‘normal’ meat, it does not require raising livestock.
The production of cultured meat trumps other plant alternatives in the sense that it allows meat lovers to consume meat, but in a more environmentally friendly manner. Other advantages of cultured meat include the fact that, there is a lower risk of disease from meat produced in labs than with ‘normal’ meat.
The environmental and social benefits that can be gained from the development of cultured meats will prove to be a massive disruptor in the foodservice business. However, “we don’t fully know what some of these technologies hold, there’s massive uncertainty between the costs and benefits, the risks and opportunities,” explains Nierenberg from Food Tank.
Developments in cultured meat and plant-based alternatives has the potential to reform the agricultural industry, advancements in technology promise a brighter future where the “food and animal production system honors and respects those involved in it” says Nierenberg. However, this promise of change instigated by technological developments comes with a set of challenges. Millions of farmers whose livelihoods are dependent on farming and raising livestock could be threatened by the move towards plant-based alternatives and cultured meat.
ProVeg International published a report in June, Amplifying farmers’ voices: farming perspectives on alternative proteins and a just transition, which highlights some of the challenges faced by farmers due to the transition to plant-based alternatives. “Farmers are clearly open-minded about what they produce but need to know there are markets for their produce that will secure a financially viable and resilient future for them. I would encourage all food and ingredient suppliers to support farmers in making a viable transition,” Stephanie Jaczniakowska-McGirr, International Head of Food Industry and Retail, at ProVeg said.
Highlighting the concerns of farmers over the financial viability of transitioning into a plant-based food system, the report suggests that farmers will continue to have a future even with the transition into a plant-based food system, however it ignores the fact that developments in cultured meat are a massive disruptor to the livestock industry, which could significantly affect the future of livestock farmers.
“I believe that cultured meat could fundamentally change the way the majority of meat is produced in Europe,” said Peter Verstrate, co-founder and COO of Dutch company Mosa Meat. Cultivated meat remains unavailable for commercial use in Europe and the Middle East. Mosa Meat, which was cofounded by Mark Post, the man behind the first cultured-meat burger, aims to be the first company to provide cultured meats for commercial use in Europe.