What if I say you can have your favourite grilled chicken burger or that KFC bucket without any animal slaughter? No way. Is that even possible? Yes! It has been for years now. There is a no-kill way for non-vegetarians to enjoy meat without compromising with their conventional taste. Same old lip-smacking flavour but with added benefits for the planet.
As we have advanced through technologies and scientific development, we created “Cultured Meat” also known as ‘Synthetic or Artificial meat.’ And most definitely it will be free of the common contaminants found in traditional meat. Cultured meat is still meat, just grown in a way that is different from the traditional way.
What is Cultured Meat?
The first question that pops up into your mind is “What is Cultured Meat?”. Cultured meat is created or manufactured by painlessly harvesting muscle cells from respective animals, which is the main component of the meat which we eat. In cultured meat, stem cells are used as they can be permanently separated and can be divided into different types of genealogies — like meat from different organs. Large stem cells can be found directly in animal tissues such as muscle, liver and adipose tissue.
Mosa Meat, Memphis Meats, Aleph Farms, BlueNalu and Finless Foods are the five leading mega-companies in the market today which are associated with the production of cultured meat.
Fun Fact: The cell grows into strands. 20,000 of these small strands of meat are combined and are enough to make one normal-sized hamburger.
How is Cultured meat manufactured?
Not to be confused with the plant-based alternatives, it is cultured by the cells which are derived from live animals. The first step to do that is to take out a healthy tissue sample from the respective animals and establish a healthy cell line, i.e., maintaining a defined number of population in the cell culture media so that it can be used for an extended period and could be used for further processing. After the cell lines have been established it is incubated in the bioreactors where the cells are monitored for their growth and development and are provided with all the conditions needed for the same.
As the serums and culture media used for the manufacturing process are highly expensive, it results in the higher price of the lab-grown or in-vitro meat. Throughout the whole process, the quality and the quantity of the produced meat are monitored.
Fun Fact: The first burger produced by lab-grown meat in 2013 cost around $300,000!
Where does India stand?
By far India has a 70% non-vegetarian population and by 2040 both the staple food and animal-based food products are going to be expensive until or unless we find a way around. India is also the third-largest egg producer in the world, producing over 95 billion eggs in the year 2018, and the fifth-biggest producer of beef, while goat farming is considered one of the most profitable livestock farming businesses in India.
Considering all the facts in knowledge, The Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad, along with National Research Centre on Meat (NRCM) are partnering to produce ‘Ahimsa meat’ or slaughter-free meat – mutton and chicken, that has been grown from stem cells, without animal rearing.
Moreover, restaurants in India till now have not tapped into this segment while many have already pushed mock meats into their menus. The government is also taking baby steps to make amendments regarding the rules and regulations that affect the manufacturing of cultured meat. In India, there are so many ethical and social factors that need to be addressed properly. It is the time when India begins this dialogue.
Is Cultured meat a step towards a more sustainable life?
Cell-based meat could cause up to 92% less global warming, 93% less air pollution and use up to 95% less land and 78% less water compared to conventional beef production. So in a way or two, artificial meat can save us from the upcoming existential climate crisis. With all the precautions taken into mind and the whole process of manufacturing, there are much fewer chances of getting bacterial contamination in the product.
Although lab-grown meat has so many good qualities, that does not mean that we should oversee the discomforts that are being or can be caused by it.
The very first problem is it can lead to a large level of unemployment across the world and with the human population rising at this rate, unemployment is already a big problem for us. Secondly, it does not eliminate animal suffering, so to produce good meat we should also get good raw material. Growing meat in a laboratory does not mean it will not have any effects on the environment.
Futuristic aspects of Cultured meat
The most common obstacle that the scientists are finding in the production is to develop complex structures through the techniques because any meat which is consumed as a food product mostly is a mixture of different types of cells connecting each other unlike some meat, which are the factors responsible for the great variety of taste. To provide the customer with a great taste palate we have to come up with some advanced technology to amplify the work that is already in progress.
The second obstacle is to produce it on a mega scale to provide it at a lower rate in the market so the common people can also consume it, which is the main goal. Upscaling any manufacturing process to a mega level requires a lot of paperwork.
Budgeting/ funding can also be considered the one aspect that needs to be addressed as the technologies used for manufacturing and various used components like the culture media come at a hefty price. The maintenance of all the pieces of equipment used also requires great funding.
Sophisticated technologies in genetic engineering, biology and sequencing techniques can provide practical technological solutions. Major scientific solutions are also expected with increasing investment in alternative food science. Importantly, apart from science, for cultured meat to be a common market asset, systemic challenges and consumer acceptance have yet to be overcome.
The cultured meat may be successful in the market due to its technological and economic performance, but there is an environmental and ethical appeal to its production performance. Even if it is considered positive, the answer is still uncertain and we will need more time to test and view. Hopefully one day the cultured meat will become the new traditional meat and can be made without harming the animals and become common meat in our community.
What do you think about it? Do you consider having it when it will be launched in the market or are you gonna skip it? I say “Put that on your plate!”.
Author: Aishwarya Ashutosh Singh
Editor: Sharmistha Dey
Aishwarya Ashutosh Singh
Aishwarya is currently pursuing her masters in Biotechnology. It has taught her about taking inspiration from even the smallest moments in life.
She loves to binge watch her favorite TV series from time to time while also being a religious member of the BTS army.