What Is Clean Meat and Is It Safe?
What is Clean Meat?
Clean meat is a term used for any meat product that has been produced in a biofactory setting without having originated from a killed animal. The terms lab-grown meat, and cultured meat is often used for the same concept.
In recent years, research into cells and cell growth have allowed scientist to create a method where muscle tissue can grow in a lab from a tiny sample. Initially, this method was (and still is) being developed for human organ production, but it opened the way for ethical meat production, where no animal needs to be harmed to supply meat.
The term clean meat originates from the fact that meat manufactured in this way is free from all disease, hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides. Clean meat is also a greener choice than regular meat.
How Is Clean Meat Made?
The first step in the creation of clean meat is the extraction of cells from an animal. These cells need to be fast-growing cells, such as stem cells or myoblast cells. How this is done can vary but stem cells, for example, can be obtained from bird feathers that the bird has shed.
Still, myoblast cells are most often used as they have already developed into muscle cells, unlike stem cells which would need to be pre-programmed to turn into muscle cells. Myoblast cells can be easily obtained from a biopsy of an animals muscle cells, with very little discomfort for the animal.
When the origin cells are obtained the next step is to grow those cells in a bioreactor, which supplies the cells with the nutrition and environment they need to multiply and grow into a muscle. This step is the complicated part of this process, which is still being researched and optimized.
The method most cited today is a scaffold-based-technique. In principle, this method involves the proliferation of suitable muscle cells on a scaffold in the presence of a nutritional culture medium (muscle food). The scaffold is moved and stretched periodically to mimic animal movements and eventually a lean clean muscle is produced which would mimic a real animal muscle.
It is theoretically possible to continue this process infinitely by extracting a few myoblast cells from each production batch. However, it is likely that the cells would, in fact, age and a fresh batch of myoblast cells would need to be introduced to the production periodically.
Finally, the muscle is harvested from the scaffold when fully grown and usually minced. Future development could see the creation of whole muscles as big as those on a real animal, offering choice chops with the same flavor and texture as animal meat.
Is Clean Meat Safe?
This is a big question and it is reasonable to worry about the safety of food manufactured in this manner. It is a brand-new technology and production mistakes may happen.
What is known is that there are no short-term ill effects from eating clean meat, other than those experienced when eating regular meat. There are however no long-term studies, simply because this form of meat production is in its infancy.
Even so, in theory, there should not be any ill side-effects at all, other than those seen with regular animal meat, since there should not be any chemical differences between the lean muscle part of clean meat and the same parts in regular meat.
In fact, clean meat should even be safer than regular animal meat as chances of bacterial contamination in clean meat are next to none. At the same time, conventional animal meat can be infected by listeria, E. coli, Campylobacter and more. There is also the risk of toxoplasmosis and in rare cases Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. None of this would be a risk with clean meat.
Clean meat would also be free of all pesticides, tranquilizers, and de-wormers. There is, however, a need for preservatives during the production of clean to protect the growing meat from yeast and fungus. Still, such preservatives would be similar, if not the same, to those used in a variety of pre-made food today.
Taking all this into account it seems self-evident that, while perhaps not 100% safe, clean meat would at least be a safer choice than regular meat.
Is Clean Meat as Nutritional as Conventional Animal Meat?
At the moment, clean meat has a nutritional disadvantage over conventional meat as it lacks many of the nutrients that are found in animal meat. However, as the technology advances and costs drop, there is no reason to expect that most if not all the nutrients contained in conventional meat could also be found in clean meat. These extra nutrients could either be added manually to the meat or even grown into the muscle as clean meat technology advances.
The nutritional content of clean meat can even now be controlled to a point. For example, the fat in clean meat can be exchanged for the healthier Omega-3 fatty acids or some other fat that would be appropriate. Clean meat could also be fortified with vitamins and minerals just as juice and cereals are today.
So, in the long run, clean meat should at the end be even more nutritional than traditional animal meat and most likely end up as a much healthier choice when the technology has matured somewhat.
Why Should I Choose Clean Meat?
There are numerous reasons to chose clean meat over traditional animal meat. Here are four good ones.
First, there is the ethical question of whether humans have the right to slaughter and mistreat animals for meat. With clean meat, this becomes a moot point as the meat source is completely free of animal cruelty and slaughter.
Second is the environmental impact. Clean meat production takes considerably less land to produce the same amount of meat you would get from animals. This alone should reduce and even stop global deforestation. There is also a massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions connected to the production and transportation of animal meat. On top of this, the water usage per kg of meat produced is tiny for clean meat compared to conventional animal meat. So from an environmental perspective, choosing to eat clean meat over regular meat is a no-brainer.
Thirdly is the reduction, and hopefully, elimination of antibiotics use in meat production. Traditional meat production is heavily reliant on antibiotics due to unsanitary living conditions and poor handling of livestock. This fact is quite horrible as this misuse of antibiotics is the leading cause of antibiotic-resistant bacteria appearing and should, in my opinion, be banned globally.
When this is written the last form of antibiotic known to work on all bacteria is now being used in India for chicken production. Because of this, it is simply a matter of time until a bacteria strain which is immune to all forms of antibiotics will emerge, threatening a global pandemic.
When it comes to clean meat, the facts are simple. Clean meat will not need any antibiotics, ever.
Finally, clean meat might be the final solution to world hunger, since there is no limit on how much meat can be produced, opposed to traditional meat production, where access to land is a limiting factor. If you run out of space in your factory, you can just add another level on top of the one you have.
Would you Eat Clean Meat if you Could?
When Will Clean Meat be Commercially Available?
The production cost of clean meat has continued to drop since 2013 when a 250.000 dollar hamburger was made as a publicity stunt. Today it is almost down to a point which is competitive with the cost of producing meat traditionally.
Further development should see the production price drop even further. It is estimated that lab-grown meat will be widely available in the year 2020 and with increases in mass production, it could mean that clean meat will, in the end, be far cheaper than regular meat.
I for one am excited for this as I will not hesitate in changing my eating habits from traditional meat to clean meat.
How Can I Help Make This Real?
By spreading the word you can help others understand that this technology is, in fact, a world-changing endeavor which will finally end humanities need to slaughter animals for meat. So please share this article wherever you think it is appropriate.
Also, when clean meat hits the supermarkets you should not hesitate to buy it over regular meat. If the public accepts clean meat quickly it will only speed up the shift from animal meat to clean meat.
Finally, voicing your support will make it harder for opposing lobby groups to delay the adoption of this technology.
- Carolyn S. Mattick, Amy E. Landis, Braden R. Allenby, and Nicholas J. Genovese. Anticipatory Life Cycle Analysis of In Vitro Biomass Cultivation for Cultured Meat Production in the United States. Environ Sci Technol. 2015, 49 (19),11941–11949.
- Shruti Sharma, Sukhcharanjit Singh Thind, and Amarjeet Kaur. In vitro meat production system: why and how? J Food Sci Technol. 2015, 52(12): 7599–7607.
- Hanna L. Tuomisto and M. Joost Teixeira de Mattos. Environmental Impacts of Cultured Meat Production. Environ Sci Technol, 2011, 45 (14): 6117–6123.
- Zuhaib Fayaz Bhat and Hina Fayaz. Prospects of Cultured meat - advancing meat alternatives. J Food Sci Technol 2011, 48(2): 125–140.
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© 2018 Levictus Marcus Saarith