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SPECIAL REPORTS

Lab grown meat: A meat with multiple benefits
Thursday, 10 September, 2020, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Bhavana A, Akshay R Patil and Gayathri B
Lab grown meat is the meat produced by in vitro cultivation of animal cells, instead of from slaughtered animals. It is a form of cellular agriculture and uses technologies of tissue engineering. In 2013, Dr Mark Post, a professor at Maastricht University, was the first to showcase a concept for cultured meat by creating the first burger patty grown directly from cells. Mosa Meat, the company co-founded by Dr Post, has indicated that they may bring cultured meat to the market by 2021. Since cultured meat is not yet commercially available, it is yet to be seen whether consumers will accept cultured meat as meat.

Besides cultured meat, the terms slaughter-free meat, in vitro meat, vat-grown, lab-grown meat, cell-based meat, clean meat, cultivated meat and synthetic meat have all been used by various outlets to describe the product. Between 2016 and 2019, clean meat gained traction as the term preferred by some journalists, advocates and organisations that support the technology. The Good Food Institute (GFI) coined the term in 2016 and in late 2018 published research which claimed that "clean" better reflected the production and benefits of the meat and surpassed "cultured" and "in vitro" in media mentions and in Google searches. In September 2019, GFI announced new research which found that the term ‘cultivated meat’ is sufficiently descriptive and differentiating, possesses a high degree of neutrality, and ranks highly for consumer appeal.
Need of lab grown meat/ cultured meat
1.    Cultured meat prevents the cruel treatment and suffering an animal goes through during the slaughtering process.
2.    Microbial quality in cultured meat is well preserved as they are lab grown and the lab conditions hardly provide any chance for the microbial contamination.
3.    With the increasing population, meeting the demand for meat and satisfying the hunger is going to be one of the greatest challenges through conventional meat production.
4.    According to an anticipatory life cycle analysis, Greenhouse gas emissions are significantly lower compared to conventional methods used for poultry, lamb, pork and beef.
5.    Cultured meat also possesses consumer health benefits as it provides no chances for spread of dreadful zoonotic diseases like Salmonellosis and Tuberculosis. Harmful effects of steroids, antibiotics and drug residues that can be found in conventional meat can be withdrawn as far as the cultured meat is concerned.
6.    Unlike the conventional meat where a large area is required for rearing and sheltering of animals, land use in cultured meat is very less.
7.    Total environmental impact in terms of energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water use is shown to be much lesser in case of cultured meat than in conventional meat in an anticipatory life cycle analysis.

Origin
•    In the year 1998, Jon F Vein secured a patent for the production of lab-grown meat tissue for the purpose of human consumption.
•    NASA began experiments producing cultured meats with starter cells from turkeys in 2001.
•    Following this in the year 2002, the first edible lab-grown meat sample was produced: a fish fillet made from cultured goldfish cells by NSR/ Touro Applied Bio-Science Research Consortium.
•    Tissue Culture and Art Project and Harvard Medical School used stem cells from frogs to create tissue that resembled a steak in the year 2003.
•    In 2008, PETA offered one million dollars to the first company that can bring lab-grown chicken to the food industry.
•    Cultured meat was labelled as one of the breakthrough ideas of the year by Time magazine in 2009.
•    In the year 2013, the first lab-grown beef hamburger was consumed at a press event. The burger was created by Dr Post at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and the event was hosted in London, England.
•    Maastricht University, the Netherlands, held their first International Conference on Cultured Meat in 2015.
•    An Israeli company, Super Meat, ran a crowd funding campaign to raise money for their efforts to bring lab-grown poultry products to market in 2016.
•    In 2017, Finless Foods announced that they expect to bring sustainable, lab-grown seafood to consumer markets within 2 years.
•    In the year 2018, Dutch startup company Meatable claimed that it will be able to produce cultured meat from stem cells sourced from animal umbilical cords, solving the problem of needing to kill an animal initially to get starter cells for production.

Production method
Muscle tissue is the key component of the edible meat. The cells that are to be cultivated are harvested from the farm animal embryo or through a muscle biopsy, which is said to be a painless and harmless procedure. These cells are exposed to enzymatic treatment to derive embryonic or adult stem cells. The resultant cells are the myoblasts that have very high capacity of proliferation. One cell has the capacity to multiply into one trillion cells. Such cells are provided with all the necessary nutrients required for the effective proliferation. When the sufficient number of cells are obtained, they are seeded onto a scaffold (starch or algae extracts) in the bioreactor.

Myoblasts at this stage start to naturally merge to form myo-tubes which are no longer than 0.3mm. These myo-tubes then turn into myo-fibres and lose their proliferative ability. These are put into a gel hub that causes them to swell up and obtain a stable structure. One strand of muscle tissue so formed can be grown into trillions of them using the techniques of tissue culture. It approximately takes 20,000 such muscle strands to form one normal sized burger patty.

The first cell - cultured hamburger public trial
    In August of 2013, the first cell cultured hamburger was cooked and tasted live on air in London, England. The event was attended by 200 journalists from around the world, the academics who worked on the Dutch Cultured Meat Project and New Harvest.
The burger was made up of around 20,000 muscle strands grown in Dr Post’s laboratory. It was made with a little egg powder and breadcrumbs and a few other common burger ingredients. It was tasted by Dr Post, food writer Josh Schonwald and nutritional researcher Hanni Rützler. The burger was cooked by Chef Richard McGeown of Couch’s Great House Restaurant in Cornwall.

The burger cost €250,000 to produce, which was said to be paid by Dr Sergey Brin. In the creation of the cultured beef burger, Dr Post’s lab experimented with animal-free media for the cells to grow in. By the end of the production of the burger, the muscle strands were grown in media with zero fetal bovine serum.

Statements made in the event:
Chef Richard McGeown: “It was slightly more pale than the beefburgers I am accustomed to but that it cooked like any other burger, was suitably aromatic and looked inviting”
Food writer Josh Schonwald: “The mouthfeel is like meat. I miss the fat, there's a leanness to it, but the general bite feels like a hamburger”
Nutritional researcher Hanni Rützler: “I was expecting the texture to be more soft... there is quite some intense taste; it's close to meat, but it's not that juicy. The consistency is perfect”

Nutrition in cultured meat
According to researchers, nutrition profile can be tailored in cultured meat by co-culturing the cells and a designer food can be brought into the market. Many companies are trying to determine the best way to incorporate fat into clean meat. One option is to culture adipose-tissue-derived stem cells, which differentiate into adipocytes, either together with or separately from satellite cells. An Israeli company called Future Meat Technologies is taking a different approach—using mesenchymal stem cells, which can differentiate into both myocytes and adipocytes, as the starting material.

Dr Liz Specht, senior scientist, Good Food Institute, speaking on the particular topic, says, “Most of the companies are focussing on muscle cells at the moment because it’s much easier to optimise a system when you’ve only got one cell type. Also, certain types of intermediate stem cells almost default to adipocytes just by adding certain fatty acids to the growth media, so it’s a bit easier than getting cells to differentiate into muscle. Researchers have demonstrated co-cultures of skeletal muscle with fat cells. However, companies may find it more efficient to incorporate plant-based fats into clean meat.”

Challenges of Working with Lab Cultured Meat
In addition to the societal stigma that lab made meat faces, there are other challenges that come along with creating meat products that resemble traditionally-sourced meats, including replicating texture, appearance and taste. Here are some of the main difficulties:
1. Speed and density of cell growth
This is a challenge because while individual cells can grow quickly, it can take some time for a larger tissue segment to form. In addition, if the cells aren’t forming together at the same density as traditionally sourced meat, the texture of the product won’t come out the same way.
2. Growth medium requirements
Cells require proper growth medium rich in nutrients in order to survive and grow. Since lab grown meat is ultimately meant for human consumption, the high quality growth medium free of common allergens is necessary.
3. Lack of blood vessels
Blood vessels normally deliver blood to tissue to survive. In lab-grown tissues, blood vessels are not present, so scientists must think of new ways to deliver nutrients, taking the place of naturally occurring blood vessels.
4. Cost to produce
Lab-grown meats are still only being produced on a fairly small scale and though the cost to make them has drastically decreased from the $330,000+ it used to cost, lab meat is very expensive to produce at around $2400/pound of lab beef, according to Memphis Meats. If adopted by larger companies and produced on a large scale, the cost might be reduced significantly.

5. The ‘Yuck’ factor
    Discussions of in vitro meat in the media most often cite the so-called “yuck factor” as a major obstacle to its general acceptance: i.e. the instinctive revulsion that many people feel at the idea of eating “unnatural” meat grown in a petri dish.
6. Replicating the taste of traditional meat
To motivate meat lovers to switch to lab-grown meat, the taste needs to be the same or very close to that of traditional meat. Many people would be quite put off if the taste leaves too much to be desired. More work is needed to ensure that the taste of cultured meat will please the foodies of the world.

Companies producing cultured meat
    There are now several companies working on bringing lab-grown meat and seafood products to consumer markets worldwide. Here are a rundown of five top companies creating these products:
                                                       
1. Memphis Meats
Memphis Meats had the idea for cell-based meats and poultry products in 2005, and in 2015, they finally launched and began producing the meats. They created the world’s first cell-based meatball in 2016, with poultry following shortly after in 2017.
Under the vision and execution of CEO & founder Dr Uma Valeti, Memphis Meats hopes to scale in such a way that less land, water, energy and food inputs are consumed by the meat industry, and quality, healthy and safe cell-based meats can reach grocery stores in coming years.
2. Finless Foods
As their slogan states, Finless Foods offers “sustainable seafood, without the catch.” They are bringing sustainable, cell-based seafood products to table, starting with bluefin tuna. This achievement would help solve the environmental problem that commercial fishing is causing, and would improve the nutritional quality of the fish being consumed.

3. Meatable
Meatable is creating hamburgers from single animal cells, in a much faster, cleaner and more sustainable way than traditional livestock-sourced burgers. Their process claims to produce a hamburger in 3 weeks or less, which, when compared to the minimum 3 years traditional meat takes, is a significant improvement.
4. SuperMeat
SuperMeat got started through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. They’re working to create animal-friendly meat products in partnership with PHW-Gruppe, one of Europe’s largest poultry producers.
Like all the other companies here, their product will help solve the environmental impact issues of the meat industry, but SuperMeat’s marketing and branding also focusses on the humanity of how this type of meat production will prevent the slaughter of animals.
5. Mosa Meat
Mosa Meat was the groundbreaking company responsible for the first lab-grown hamburger showcased in 2013. Since then, they’ve been hard at work to get their products ready for commercial production and are aiming to make them available to consumers within the next few years.
Their main goal is to bring cultured meat (or “clean meat” as they call it) to the mass market to help satisfy the growing demand for meat, which they believe will hit a critical stage by 2050. They also claim that while the process is very expensive now, over time, they will be able to reduce the price to about the same as a typical beef hamburger in the supermarket.

Consumer acceptance
 Consumer acceptance of cultured meat is expected to depend on a wide diversity of determinants ranging from technology-related perceptions to product-specific expectations, and including wider contextual factors like media coverage, public involvement, and trust in science, policy and society. Major problem for the commercialisation of in vitro meat would be its acceptance by consumers, even if some consumers are ready to taste it at least once. In particular, the artificial nature of the product goes against the growing demand for natural products in many countries. The consumption of in vitro meat will depend on a conflict of values at an individual or collective level.

 Demographic variations in consumer acceptance, factors influencing acceptance, common consumer objections, perceived benefits and areas of uncertainty are the major fields of concern that are currently being studied through various researches in various parts of the world. Even though many scientists have studied the nature of consumer acceptability and ‘n’ number of factors affecting the same, none of them have provided the cultured meat on-hand to the consumer, instead all of them are hypothetical scenarios. Until and unless the cultured meat actually enters the market and reaches the hands of the consumer, validity of the existing consumer studies cannot be counted-on for the acceptance.

Cultured meat in India
The Maharashtra State Government and the Indian arm of Washington-based NGO Good Food Institute (GFI) signed an MoU on February 19, 2019, to set up a ‘Centre for excellence in cellular agriculture’ in Maharashtra. The centre will be set up by the Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), Mumbai. GFI India MD Varun Deshpande, on this note, said, “In its first phase, a lab is expected to come up in the city next year. The second phase, a greenfield project, is expected to come up on 203 acre of land owned by ICT in Jalna by 2021.”

Animal welfare organisation Humane Society International (HSI) India and the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad have announced partnership on April 25, 2019, to develop lab-grown meat in India. Department of Biotechnology (DBT) to grant 4.5 crore for the two-year work as the initial grant.

Price of cultured meat
    The production of cultured meat is currently very expensive – in 2008 it was about $1 million for a piece of beef weighing 250 gram – and it would take considerable investment to switch to large-scale production. However, the In Vitro Meat Consortium has estimated that with improvements to current technology there could be considerable reductions in the cost of cultured meat.

In a March 2015 interview with Australia's ABC, Dr Post said that the marginal cost of his team's original €250,000 burger was now €8.00. He estimates that technological advancements would allow the product to be cost-competitive to traditionally sourced beef in approximately 10 years. In 2016, the cost of production of cultured beef for Memphis Meats was $18,000 per pound ($40,000/kg). As of June 2017, Memphis Meats reduced the cost of production to below $2,400 per pound ($5,280/kg).

Regulations
    Once cultured meat becomes more cost-efficient, it is necessary to decide who will regulate the safety and standardisation of these products. Prior to being available for sale, the European Union and Canada will require approved novel food applications. Additionally, the European Union requires that cultured animal products and production must prove safety, by an approved company application, which became effective as of January 1, 2018.

Within the United States, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) have agreed to jointly regulate cultured meat. Under the agreement, the FDA oversees cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth and differentiation, while the USDA oversees the production and labelling of human food products derived from the cells. Cultured meat considered as ‘food’ will be regulated by FDA and it needs to follow FFDCA (The United States Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act) and have a Food Safety Plan (FSP). Whereas, cultured meat considered as ‘Meat Food Product’ under USDA needs to be regulated by the FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) who must deem the ingredients safe and usable.

Summary
•    Cultured meat is the meat produced by in vitro cultivation of animal cells, instead of from slaughtered animals.
•    In 2013, Mark Post, a professor at Maastricht University, was the first to showcase a proof-of-concept for cultured meat by creating the first burger patty grown directly from cells.
•    Its applications lead it to have several prospective health, environmental, cultural, and economic considerations in comparison to conventional meat.
•    In addition to the environmental benefits, lack of the use of antibiotics or any other chemical substances, cultured meat can also leverage numerous biotechnology advancements, including increased nutrient fortification, individually-customised cellular and molecular compositions, and optimal nutritional profiles, all making it much healthier than livestock-sourced meat.
•    Even though significant uncertainty surrounds anticipatory analyses, they remain valuable for highlighting the possible implications of emerging technologies as they advance.
•    Benefits in terms of sustainability of cultured meat relative to traditional meat are recognised by consumers.
•    The way meat is described may have a profound impact on its acceptance.
•    Potential consumers of cultured meat are very young (under 25), highly educated and population somewhat familiar with cultured meat, a meat consumer who is willing to reduce meat consumption.
•    Educated consumers do not believe that cultured meat is a solution to the problems with the meat industry.
•    The production process still has much room for improvement, the pros and cons are only realistically weighed once the product is commercialised and reaches the consumer.

Conclusion
    Every novel food developed comes with its own pros and cons and so does cultured meat. According to the studies conducted, cultured meat production is said to be more environment- and animal-friendly than conventional meat production. But there are also a lot of questions that rise with its benefits. One of the most important points highlighted with the very idea of cultured meat is that the animal is not killed, therefore increasing the number of happy animals on the planet.

But thinking of it this way, why would a farmer even feed and raise poultry, cattle, pigs such livestock if he is not going to make profit out of its meat? There are chances that this might eventually result in drop of total animal population. On the other hand, if the human population keeps increasing at such higher rates, meeting the meat demand to satisfy the hunger of the growing population through conventional meat alone is going to be a great challenge and if such a scenario happens to occur, cultured meat will have to accepted whether we like it or not.

    On the part of consumer acceptance, there are multiple criteria that are judging the acceptance of cultured meat and it is going to vary to a great note from one individual to other depending on n number of factors. Even though there are a lot of studies done on the consumer acceptance of cultured meat, all of such studies are only a hypothetical scenario where an individual is asked “If you were given cultured meat”. The conclusion drawn on consumer acceptability with the if factor may not be reliable. Even though Anticipatory Life Cycle Analysis say that the cultured meat is superior to the conventional meat in terms of its effects on the environment, a large range of uncertainty is also laid down along with the results. Therefore, the claimed benefits and acceptability of cultured meat can only be weighed when it, in real, enters the market and reaches the hands of the consumer.

(Bhavana is Scientist (Home Science), ICAR Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Chinthamani; Patil is PhD scholar, Department of Food Science and Technology, IIFPT, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu; and Dr Gayathri is Scientist (Soil Science), ICAR- Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Chinthamani They can be contacted at  bhavana7243@gmail.com)
 
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