Would You Eat Meat Created From Stem Cells?

Scientists are cultivating proteins from the stem cells of livestock and poultry in labs in a bid to create more sustainable meat, but will anyone want to eat it?

Using stem cells from cows or DNA from chicken eggs, lab technicians are developing products they say will taste, feel and look exactly the same as a product directly from an animal.

University of New South Wales food and health professor Johannes le Coutre said cultivated meat was likely to be on supermarket shelves by 2030 and that as the human population increased the environmental impact of livestock farming would become unsustainable.

“You can grow material into edible tissue without harvesting plants or killing an animal — that’s what makes it attractive,” Dr le Coutre said.

“If you’re looking at producing a kilogram of beef it will cost you 15,000 litres of water.

“If you can do that in a closed system the concept is that recycling water systems [would be used].”

According to an Australian Beef Sustainability Framework report, the majority of water used in beef production is consumed by cattle as drinking water.

It found 486 litres of water was used per kilogram of meat before the animal was slaughtered.

Although cultivated meat is not yet a reality in Australia, last year Singapore’s Food Agency approved the sale of lab-grown chicken nuggets.

Dr le Coutre said cultivated meat companies would face many challenges before Australian food regulators gave lab meat the green light.

“Is [approval] something that should be done on a continuous basis, or is it something that can be done once and every batch of material will be considered safe?” he said.

How it works

Israeli company MeaTech has become the first cultivated meat company to be listed on the US stock exchange, having raised $US28 million in start-up funding.

Business development head Simon Fried said slaughter-free meat had both environmental and ethical benefits.

“We choose to take the [stem] cell samples from umbilical cords — we figure that is the least inconvenient place from the cow’s perspective,” he said.

Mr Fried said the company was also producing poultry products using DNA.

“We’re producing chicken cells and those stem cells can be taken from the egg itself,” he said.

“The real magic, though, is once you have that cell, you need to grow them and they need to multiply … and stem cells divide about once a day.”

Mr Fried said developing technologies such as bio-printing would allow the stem cells to be transformed into a piece of meat.

“We believe this exponential form of cell agriculture means that from small samples a lot of food can be made,” he said.

From the muscle and fat cells, bio-ink is made.

Using a 3D printer, thin layers are stacked together to form the final piece of meat.

After the tissue is finished printing, it is placed in a medium to grow and mature.

Aussies will need convincing

Research shows Australian consumers will need convincing before moving away from traditionally sourced diets.

“Be it in the livestock sector or broader agricultural produce, there is awareness and pride about our food here in Australia so [cultivated meat] will need to live up to these standards,” Dr le Coutre said.

Consumers need to be convinced, even if you pass all of the legal hurdles consumers need to see the benefit.

Dr le Coutre said consumer concerns around the ethics of cellular agriculture were unfounded because stem cells were present in all food and fibre.

But he said he understood the hesitancy about genetically modified organisms (GMO).

“If you eat a piece of chicken or fish, you’re already eating thousands of stem cells,” he said.

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