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Food Integrity Campaign Blog

A Compassionate, Sustainable Alternative to Conventional Meat?

Food Integrity Campaign | November 6, 2018

Food Integrity Campaign (FIC) whistleblower clients have revealed serious problems with modern meat production: mistreated animals, unsafe working conditions, and food safety hazards. Proponents of a new technology called cell-based meat aim to circumvent many problems altogether through a completely new production system.

In short, cell-based meat involves taking cells from an animal, using those cells to grow many more in a lab, and using the large volume of cells to make a meat alternative. In order for the cells to resemble the actual animal muscle that makes up meat, they have to be grown on an edible “scaffold” to give the product texture and structure like conventional meat.

The process itself is still being refined, as many companies scramble to figure out a cost-effective, sustainable way to bring their products to scale. The potential promise of this technology is enticing. Consider:

  • Cell-based meat could drastically reduce the number of animals involved in meat production, thus reducing the killing of animals and their confinement in factory farms.
  • Early environmental impact analyses indicate that, even accounting for the materials needed to grow the cells, cell-based meat production would use far less land than conventional meat, opening farmland to raise other foods rather than feedstock.
  • Reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of varying ranges are possible as well.  Conventional beef produces the most greenhouse gas emissions, so cell-based beef offers the best chance to lessen the impact.
  • Cell-based meat would not rely on antibiotics the way industrial agriculture does, reducing the development of antibiotic resistance in foodborne pathogens.
  • Cell-based seafood could be made without environmental contaminants such as mercury and plastic.

The number of start-up companies working to bring cell-based meat to market continues to grow, and the federal government is paying attention. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently held a joint meeting to consider how to regulate and label cell-based meat products. Look for more coverage of the heated debate about the future of this new technology in our food system.