Lab-grown meat, also known as cultured meat or cultivated meat, is real meat grown from animal cells in a controlled environment outside of the animal's body. This innovative food technology is appealing to many for ethical, environmental and health reasons.
However, an important question remains: is lab-grown meat vegan? In this article, we'll answer the question “how is lab-grown meat made?” and discuss if it aligns with vegan principles, how much it will cost, and its benefits.
What is Lab-Grown Meat?
Before we answer the question "is lab-grown meat vegan," it is important to understand what lab-grown meat actually is.
Lab-grown meat is produced from animal cells grown in a lab. This process eliminates the need to raise and slaughter animals for food.
We begin by extracting cells from an animal or an embryo and place them in a nutrient-rich environment where they can multiply and grow. The result is a crave-worthy product that looks, tastes, and feels like conventionally-grown meat but was never part of an animal's body.
How is Lab-Grown Meat Made?
Our lab-grown meat process begins by growing and replicating what are called fibroblast cells. These cells are more stable and replicate much more quickly than stem cells, without the need for genetic modification, allowing us to make more meat, faster, at a lower cost than our competitors.
We then create lines of ever-replicating animal cells—using a non-GMO process called "spontaneous immortalization." This process involves identifying rare fibroblast cells in a given sample that go through what is known as a spontaneous immortalization event.
After isolating these naturally immortal cells, we can then create fully immortal cell lines by letting them replicate in a nutrient-rich mixture—called the cell media—that mimics the nutrient profile cells would find inside a living animal.
When the biomass reaches optimal density and volume, we harvest it from the bioreactor, separate it from the nutrient-rich medium, and fortify it with plant based proteins and other ingredients to give it the shape, feel, texture and taste of conventionally-farmed meat.
Is Lab-Grown Meat Vegan?
Answering the question "is lab-grown meat vegan?" is not just important for the approximately 88 million vegans around the world. Discussing this question will also educate people who simply want to know more about the ethical implications of cultivated meat.
Whether or not lab-grown meat can be considered vegan is a complex debate with valid arguments on both sides. Additionally, each consumer has their own ethical standards and reasons for being a vegan and, therefore, is likely to view lab-grown meat differently.
Real Animal Cells
On the one hand, lab-grown meat is made from real animal cells and is essentially just meat produced in a different way. No animals are killed or exploited in the production process.
No animals are even farmed or are made to live in a contained environment. That said, the final product is in many ways an animal product.
At Believer, we source animal cells only once and then create cell lines that replicate forever. This is how we can continue to produce meat at scale without ever having to involve an animal again.
However, because the initial cells are extracted from animals, typically with a biopsy, some argue the process still engages animals and, therefore, does not meet the standard of being vegan.
The definition of veganism focuses on avoiding exploitation and cruelty to animals as much as possible. For some vegans, lab-grown meat may cross an ethical line because it still relies on animal cells and byproducts.
However, other vegans argue that if lab-grown meat can replace the demand for conventionally-produced meat and mitigate the suffering of billions of animals, it should be considered vegan.
They see it as a transition toward a more plant-centric food system.
With valid perspectives on both sides, whether or not lab-grown meat is vegan comes down to the individual and each person’s definitions of veganism. At this point, there is no universal consensus in the vegan community regarding lab-grown meat.
As the technology develops and the implications become clearer, views may evolve. But for now, vegans will have to decide for themselves if they consider this new meat vegan or not.
How Much Does Lab-Grown Meat Cost?
The cost of lab-grown meat has been steadily decreasing since 2013, when it cost over $300,000 to produce a five-ounce hamburger.
Recently, we've reduced this cost significantly through technical advancements and maturity and continue to strive towards price party with premium conventionally-farmed meat.
This is due to our continued innovation and recent MOU with Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world's leading agricultural processors and food ingredient providers. This agreement could usher in a new era of cost efficiency in cultivated meat.
However, at least today, the cost of lab-grown meat still remains higher than conventional animal agriculture products due to the high costs associated with scaling up production and developing new technology.
To make this technology more accessible and affordable for consumers, we are continuing research and development to reduce production costs and increase efficiency.
Is Lab-Grown Meat Good for the Environment?
There are many studies and experts that discuss why lab-grown meat is good for the environment.
Compared to industrial animal agriculture, lab-grown meat is more environmentally sustainable. A study by researchers at Oxford University found that cultured meat production could reduce land use by 99% and water use by 90%.
It also produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Without the need to raise and feed billions of animals, lab-grown meat is a more efficient system for producing meat.
However, the environmental impact depends on how sustainable and eco-friendly the production processes become. There are still question marks around how much energy is required, especially considering the strict sterile conditions and temperature control needed.
While lab-grown meat has the potential to be an environmentally-friendly alternative, more research is needed into the total life cycle and resource requirements as the technology scales up.
Life Cycle Analysis
A recent life cycle analysis found that lab grown meat could generate up to 25 times more greenhouse gas emissions and require up to 10 times more energy than grass-fed beef production.
It is important to note that this analysis assumed that bioreactors run on natural gas and found that they contribute significantly to the environmental footprint. However, if bioreactors can be powered by renewable energy, the environmental impact would be reduced.
As with any industry, one life cycle analysis may not contain the correct assumptions that would apply to others. For more accurate analyses, it is vital to include data and processes that are specific to different lab-grown meat companies and their products.
When Can I Buy Lab-Grown Meat?
While there is no concrete timeline on when people will be able to buy cultivated meat, there have been several recent developments that show the food category is gaining momentum. Singapore and the USA have approved the sale of cultivated meat.
With the recent USDA approvals of East Just and Upside Foods' cultivated meat, consumers are one step closer to enjoying cultivated meat products in stores and at restaurants.
We at Believer Meats broke ground on our first U.S. commercial-scale production facility, which is poised to be the largest in the world capable of producing at least 22 million pounds of meat a year for consumers across the U.S. and beyond.
What are the Benefits of Lab-Grown Meat?
As with any new technology, it is important to consider lab-grown meat pros and cons. There is no denying, however, the numerous benefits associated with lab-grown meat.
For the purpose of this discussion, we will focus on four key areas: animal welfare, environmental impact, antibiotic and disease control, and health implications
1. Animal Welfare
One of the most compelling advantages of lab-grown meat is the potential for significant improvements in animal welfare. Conventional livestock farming involves raising and slaughtering animals, a process that can often involve inhumane conditions and practices.
Lab-grown meat, however, is produced without the need for raising and slaughtering animals. This production method could drastically reduce, if not eliminate, the suffering of billions of animals raised for food each year.
2. Environmental Impact
Cultivated meat also holds promise for mitigating the environmental damage caused by conventional livestock farming. Livestock farming requires approximately 70% of global arable land, primarily for growing livestock feed.
Moreover, it contributes significantly to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gasses. In contrast, lab-grown meat consumes far less energy, land, and water.
3. Antibiotic and Disease Control
The controlled, sterile environments in which lab-grown meat is produced could also help combat the spread of diseases and reduce reliance on antibiotics. Because our meat is grown in the lab, there is virtually no risk of the usual food borne illnesses, such as E. Coli.
Conventional livestock farming often involves the use of antibiotics to promote growth and prevent disease, contributing to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Cultivated meats, grown in clean lab environments, are free from such concerns.
4. Health Implications
Finally, lab-grown meat may offer health benefits over traditional meat. Since it's produced in a controlled environment, lab-grown meat can be engineered to contain fewer harmful fats and more beneficial nutrients.
Moreover, it's free from any artificial growth hormones that are often used in conventional livestock farming. Once lab-grown meat becomes more affordable, people around the world will be able to eat the meat they crave, even without access to industrial agricultural practices.
Lab-grown meat presents a promising solution to many of the problems associated with traditional meat production. From improving animal welfare to benefiting our environment and health, the potential benefits of this innovative technology are immense.
So, Is Lab-Grown Meat Vegan?
Lab-grown meat is a rapidly advancing technology that could profoundly improve animal welfare, reduce environmental degradation, and provide healthier alternatives.
The question of whether lab-grown meat is vegan, though, remains subjective and reliant on personal ethics at this point in time. No matter what, we believe it is a vital step toward a sustainable and compassionate food system.
The question "is lab grown meat vegan?" opens up a fascinating dialogue that intersects technology, ethics, and sustainability. Follow along at The Source to learn more about our technology and follow up on social media to join the conversation.