Is meat production more efficient in a lab?

Lab-grown meat sounds like something out of science fiction, but advocates say the process is more efficient than traditional agriculture.

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KarinaKnyspel | iStockPhoto.com
KarinaKnyspel | iStockPhoto.com

Lab-grown meat sounds like something out of science fiction, but advocates say the process is more efficient than traditional agriculture.

“Like probably most of you I like meat and that's fine. It's a wonderful product. It’s very nutritious,” Dr. Mark Post, a researcher at Maastricht University and the CMO of Mosa Meat, said during Lab-Based Meat Production: Science Fiction or Reality. “However, I think most of you realize, and if not then you probably should, is that it's actually very resource intense.”

In addition, rising middle class incomes through the world – particularly in India, China, Africa and South America – mean that consumers have money to purchase more meat. That’s good news if you like meat, Post said, but it will be difficult to find enough land in the future to meet the growing demand for animal agriculture.

Lab-grown meat

Lab-grown meat could be a more efficient way to solve these challenges.

“In the medical field, we have been using stem cells and tissue engineering to produce tissues. for regenerative purposes for people who have lost tissue due to surgery or accidents,” Post explained. “We use that technology that was described many many years ago to start making meat.”

The process begins by taking a biopsy containing stem cells from a cow, chicken or other animal. These stem cells are then placed in a cell culture alongside a growth medium in a laboratory, a process that allows the cells to self-organize into a muscle fiber.

As the cells mature, they are placed into a stainless-steel tank known as a bioreactor, resulting in a product that resembles the taste, appearance and texture of chicken, beef, pork and other meats. 

Barriers to commercialization

In 2013, Mosa Meat made headlines when they made the world’s first lab-grown hamburger, but Post admits that the cultured meat industry still has a way to go before it is ready to be commercially available.

The first hamburger “was not a product, it was a proof, or at least a showcase that this can be done. And that we should start, or could start to develop this technology further and hopefully, in the end, be able to scale it up and make it affordable for people,” he said.

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