Since day one, I’ve been keeping my eye on the cell-based meat industry (also known as cultivated or cultured meat). What at first sounded like something you’d get from a Star Trek replicator is inching closer and closer to hitting store shelves.
While we aren’t quite there yet in Canada and the U.S., I’m very interested in this space because of the implications it has on the environment, the traditional animal industry, and consumer purchasing habits. Here are 3 reasons why I think you should keep an eye on the cultivated meat industry.
1. Sustainable meat is no longer a pipedream
I could talk about how traditional animal agriculture is one of the major contributors to climate change, but that’s probably better suited for its own article! Instead, let’s focus on the benefits of producing cell-based meat from an environmental standpoint.
Cultivated meats use significantly less water and require far less space than a traditional animal farm. An issue we need to look at is how we’re using the environment around us. Animal farms require a lot of space, which often means encroaching on the land. This leads to a loss of biodiversity when we repurpose forests and diverse habitats into farmland.
Creating cultivated meat in a lab results in a lower carbon footprint—none of the inefficient machinery or regular processes of farming are required, meaning agriculture-related pollution is mitigated.
2. Lower risk of disease outbreaks
Could cultivated meats be a healthier option? One area that doesn’t get enough attention is the lowered risk of outbreaks associated with foodborne illnesses. Cultivated meat is produced in an environment that is far less exposed to pathogens and other enteric diseases.
To be clear, when I say cultured meats may be a healthier alternative than traditional meat, I’m not talking about health in the sense of calorie count or fat content. After all, it’s still meat, and eating a large steak every day isn’t a good idea—regardless of whether it came from a farm or a lab.
Professor Mark Post, the first to create a proof-of-concept for cultured meat, said that this style of meat production allows us to have more control over what the product consists of. For example, a burger patty with lower fat content could be developed. I believe the concept of reducing zoonosis—diseases that make the jump from non-human animals to humans—should be one of the primary discussion points when talking about cultivated meats.
3. Expected industry growth
Earlier, I talked about the environmental implications of cultivated meat, but the financial aspect is also something to consider. Since 2016, over $800 million of investments have gone into cultivated meat innovations.
I’m not the only one with a keen eye on the cultivated meat industry—investors in the food and sustainability space are also paying close attention. Consider just how quickly this industry has grown over the past five years from a small handful of startups to over 80 this year. The cultivated meat industry is also expected to take a large chunk of the market share away from the traditional meat and seafood industry. This may sound scary to traditional meat businesses in these industries, but consumers today welcome additional options—especially ones that resonate with their own values.
For those looking to invest in this space, keep this in mind: change is happening fast. In the U.S., plans to regulate cultivated meat and seafood were put into motion in 2019. Just last year, Singapore became the first country in the world to commercialize cultivated meat products after an extensive two-year review and testing process. Some companies, like Eat Just, are already selling their cultured meat products in Singapore, giving them an advantage when other countries follow suit.
What’s in store for cultivated meats?
As a brand new product making use of the latest technology, there are still many questions to be answered. While we know that cell-based meats are more sustainable compared to traditional meat farming, studies have yet to show by what exact percentage. This is primarily because cultivated meat products haven’t been sold at scale yet in order to determine the exact numbers.
Then, there’s regulation. Countries are continuing to have discussions about the policies around cultivated meats and seafood, setting the stage for regulatory approval in the future. One conversation you can bet will be had is around naming conventions—should we use the word “meat” to describe these cultivated products? When cultivated meat products are available in stores, I wouldn’t be surprised to see meat producers filing lawsuits against cultivated meat companies banning them from using certain terms. After all, it’s currently happening in the plant-based industry. If you didn’t get a chance to read my previous article that touched on these lawsuits, you can find it here.
There are also other benefits of cell-based meats that I didn’t touch on, such as that it is a potential solution to address food insecurity and that lab-grown meat has fewer antibiotics. Ultimately, cultivated meat continues to be a topic of discussion—and I’m excited to see what’s next!