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What is cultured meat?
Cultured meat is meat produced in vitro, in a cell culture, rather than from an animal. The production of cultured meat begins by taking a number of cells from a farm animal and proliferating them in a nutrient-rich medium. Cells are capable of multiplying so many times in culture that, in theory, a single cell could be used to produce enough meat to feed the global population for a year. After the cells are multiplied, they are attached to a sponge-like "scaffold" and soaked with nutrients. They may also be mechanically stretched to increase their size and protein content. The resulting cells can then be harvested, seasoned, cooked, and consumed as a boneless, processed meat, such as sausage, hamburger, or chicken nuggets.

Why would anyone want to make cultured meat?
Cultured meat has the potential to be healthier, safer, less polluting, and more humane than conventional meat. Fat content can be more easily controlled. The incidence of foodborne disease can be significantly reduced, thanks to strict quality control rules that are impossible to introduce in modern animal farms, slaughterhouses, or meat packing plants. Inedible animal structures (bones, respiratory system, digestive system, skin, and the nervous system) need not be grown. As a result, cultured meat production should be more efficient than conventional meat production in its use of energy, land, and water; and it should produce less waste.

How does cultured meat taste?
Cultured meat contains the same muscle cells that form most meats. However, there are a number of technical obstacles, especially regarding texture, that have to be overcome before cultured meat can be a compelling substitute for conventional meat.

Where can I buy cultured meat?
Cultured meat is not yet commercially available.

When will cultured meat be commercially available?
Within several years, it may be possible to produce cultured meat in a processed form, like sausage, hamburger, or chicken nuggets, with modifications of existing technologies. Producing unprocessed meats, like steaks or pork chops, would involve technologies that do not yet exist and that may take a decade or longer to develop.

Isn't this food unnatural?
Cultured meat is unnatural, in the same way that bread, cheese, yogurt, and wine are unnatural. All involve processing ingredients derived from natural sources. Arguably, the production of cultured meat is less unnatural than raising farm animals in intensive confinement systems, injecting them with synthetic hormones, and feeding them artificial diets made up of antibiotics and animal wastes. At the same time, the conventional production of meat has led to a number of unnatural problems, including high rates of ischemic heart disease and foodborne illness, as well as soil and water pollution from farm animal wastes.

Is cultured meat genetically-modified?
There is nothing in the production of cultured meat that necessarily involves genetic modification. The cells that can be used to produce cultured meat are muscle and stem cells from farm animals. It is possible, however, that genetically-modifying a muscle cell would allow it to proliferate a greater number of times in culture, and may thus make cultured meat production more economical.

Must animals be killed in the production of cultured meat?"
No. It is possible to take a muscle biopsy from a live farm animal and culture the isolated cells. While some growth media contain animal ingredients, a growing number of media are animal-free.

What is the source of nutrients used in cultured meat production?
In biomedical research, most cell cultures have used media made from animal blood. But researchers have now developed media from a variety of other sources, including plants and microorganisms.

How much will cultured meat cost?
Theoretically, cultured meat could afford higher resource and labor efficiencies, which could translate into lower costs, if cultured meat were produced at scale with an affordable medium. However, it is unlikely that cultured meat will soon compete with conventional meat in ordinary markets. There are technologies now found in virtually every household that originally cost too much for mass acceptance. Only after reductions in cost by several orders of magnitude were they mass—produced.

Who are you?
New Harvest is a nonprofit research organization working to develop new meat substitutes, including cultured meat. Our boards are comprised of scientists in biology, agriculture, public health, and medicine. Read more.

Where can I learn more?
See our resources page.

 



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