Context: The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) approved this week the sale of a lab-grown meat product. This is the first-time cultured meat has been cleared for sale anywhere in the world.
- Last year, in India also, the Maharashtra government and the Institute of Chemical Technology signed an agreement with U.S.-based non-profit Good Food Institute to set up a Centre for Excellence in Cellular Agriculture.
Why is this a big deal?
- In its June 2020 Food Outlook Report, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) stated that world meat output was set to contract to 333 million tonnes, 1.7% less than in 2019.
- The disruption has been caused mainly by Covid-19, but it has added to already widespread fears about zoonotic diseases, especially African swine fever and highly pathogenic avian influenza. This provides an opportunity to the alternative meat industry.
What is Cultured Meat
- Cultured meat involves applying the practices of tissue engineering to the production of muscle for consumption as food.
- Sometimes also known as clean meat or in vitro meat, it is an emergent technology that operates as part of the wider field of cellular agriculture
- The technology for production of cultured meat involves expanding stem cells then differentiating them into muscle cells.
- It is biologically exactly the same as the meat tissue that comes from an animal.
Potential benefits of cultured meat
- Cultured meat could deliver reduced:
- Water use,
- Greenhouse gas emissions,
- Eutrophication potential, and
- Land use compared to conventional livestock meat production.
- Livestock contributes to global warming through unchecked releases of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
- The increase in demand of animal meat will significantly increase levels of methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide and cause loss of biodiversity.
How is lab-grown or cultured meat different from plant-based meat?
- The latter is made from plant sources such as soy or pea protein, while cultured meat is grown directly from cells in a laboratory.
- Both have the same objective:
- Offer alternatives to traditional meat products that could feed a lot more people,
- Reduce the threat of zoonotic diseases, and
- Mitigate the environmental impact of meat consumption.
- In terms of cellular structure, cultured or cultivated meat is the same as conventional meat — except that cultured meat does not come directly from animals.
- According to the Good Food Institute (GFI)’s 2019 State of the Industry Report on cultivated meats, compared to conventional beef, cultivated beef could reduce land use (by more than 95%), climate change emissions (by 74-87%) and nutrient pollution (by 94%).
- The report adds that since cultivated meat is created in clean facilities, the risk of contamination by pathogens such as salmonella and E Coli, which may be present in traditional slaughterhouses and meat-packing factories, is significantly reduced.
- It does not require antibiotics either, unlike animals raised for meat, thereby reducing the threat posed to public health by growing antibiotic resistance.