Rising Stakes for Growing Steaks

by Vins

The ability to ‘grow’ meat in a lab was a hot media story for a few days, while research predicting the innovation in food production would increase greenhouse gas emissions has received little attention.

Cellular Agriculture is a technology that allows meat to be grown from cells in a bioreactor rather than harvested from livestock. This new technology can improve animal welfare, enhance human health and decrease environmental impact of meat production, according to a 2018 article published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Cellular agriculture could be used to produce a variety of foods, even food from exotic and potentially extinct animals like woolly mammoths. However, food isn’t the only thing that cellular agriculture could be used for. Any material that comes from animals—such as leather, for example—could also conceivably be created through cellular agriculture.

To grow this meat, scientists start with stem cells from an animal. As they culture the cells in an environment with sufficient oxygen and plenty of nutrients, the cells begin to divide and eventually grow to become tissue that is identical to meat harvested from livestock.

Although meat has already been grown and tested, all the kinks have not been fully worked out of the system yet. “Because the technology largely replaces biological systems with chemical and mechanical ones, it has the potential to increase industrial energy consumption and, consequently, greenhouse gas emissions,” researcher Carolyn Mattick states in the article.

The meat that has been produced to date costs thousands of dollars per pound to make. However, as the idea gains steam and the systems become more efficient, both the cost of producing and the energy consumption could substantially decrease. This idea seems like a futuristic sci-fi novel but industry pioneers believe the cultured meat will be commercialized within a matter of years.

Since this study was released, there has been some additional coverage by both the establishment press and specialized agricultural outlets. Although the article has caught some attention, the research leading up to it and any possible debates over safety and ethics that may have occurred along the way have not been covered.

Source: Carolyn S. Mattick, “Cellular Agriculture: The Coming Revolution in Food Production,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January 28, 2018, 74:1, 32-35, DOI: 10.1080/00963402.2017.1413059.

Student Researcher: Harrison Brooks (University of Regina)

Faculty Evaluators: Janelle Blakley and Patricia Elliott (University of Regina)