Each year, billions of animals are slaughtered to fill the global demand for meat. Most of them are raised in conditions that some meat lovers may not be aware of or comfortable with as they browse the grocery store for dinner. But shoppers are increasingly aware of how their food is made and looking for assurances that they are buying cruelty-free meat.
To help shoppers navigate their choices, the meat industry has developed a long list of labels intended to shed light on the conditions animals lived in before they were processed and packaged. Some of the most popular options in the U.S. market for more ethical meat include USDA Organic, Grass-Fed, and Certified Humane Meat.
But some would argue that even animals raised under the most "humane" conditions before being sent off for slaughter just couldn't be considered cruelty-free meat. What we at Believer Meats could confidently say is there is only one type of meat in the world that can unequivocally tick both slaughter-free and ethical meat boxes: cultivated or lab-grown meat.
What is Cultivated Meat?
Grown in lab-like settings from animal cells, cultivated meat does not require the raising or slaughtering of any animal. Of all the cruelty free meat brands and ethical meat suppliers in the world, there is none that can truthfully claim that no animal was harmed in the process of producing their meat — unless that meat was made in a lab.
To better explain where cultivated meat fits in the increasingly complex landscape of cruelty-free meat, we're breaking down key consumer concerns, the main categories of ethical meat and important details about cultivated meat's animal welfare potential.
Why Ethical Meat?
In our world of news alerts, Google, and social media scrolling, people are more informed than ever about where their food comes from, how it's made and why that might be a problem. Anyone with an internet connection can easily find videos of dark and overcrowded broiler houses, pigs confined to tiny cages, and abusive animal handling.
Growing awareness of abusive practices — but also conventional practices that are legal, common, but ethically questionable for some people — in meat supply chains has driven a movement for more ethical meat. People are especially concerned about the environmental conditions animals are raised in, and the pain and discomfort they might experience over the course of their abbreviated lives.
In response, governments, animal rights groups, and the meat industry itself have taken steps to improve animal welfare standards in the world of conventional meat. Today, shoppers around the world can choose from a range of labels claiming that their meat was "grass-fed," their eggs were produced by "free-range" chickens and that their steak is "certified humane meat."
Obstacles to Animal Welfare Reform
Still, there are many obstacles to meaningful, widespread animal welfare reform that cultivated meat and other conventional meat alternatives have set out to solve. Here are some of those obstacles.
Ethical Meat Claims Don't Tell Us Much
Animal welfare groups like the ASPCA point out that there are limitations to ethical meat claims. The group says that the USDA’s “grass-fed” designation, "is not well-defined nor tightly regulated" and that the “free-range” label does not tell shoppers anything about the length of time animals have access to the outdoors, or the conditions of the outdoor space.
And though the ASPCA says that Certified Humane meat is one of the most meaningful claims producers can make, the group notes that even this one comes with limitations. For example, the label doesn't require outdoor access for birds and pigs and its standards do not extend to breeding animals.
Cruelty-Free Meat Brands Are The Exception
Notably, higher animal welfare standards and claims are voluntary and often challenging for farmers to implement. So most of the world's meat supply is not coming from farms going above and beyond on animal welfare and instead comes mainly from conventional farms.
Even "Humane" Livestock Production is Ethically Gray
Even in the imaginary scenario in which all food came from ethical meat suppliers, livestock would still be subjected to pretty unnatural lives and ultimately slaughtered on a mass scale, which many would still object to as fundamentally unethical.
Global Meat Demand Incentivizes Large-Scale Farming
The main obstacle to animal welfare reform in conventional meat supply chains is that demand for meat — real meat — remains strong. Globally, it's on the rise. And, for now, the only practical way to meet that growing demand is through more factory farming — packing as many animals as "ethically" possible into confined spaces, breeding them, killing them and repeating the process with their spawn.
What Are Cruelty-Free Alternatives to Conventional Meat?
In search of a more ethical way forward, different groups have charted different paths. At the moment, three distinct groups have emerged to offer ethical meat alternatives.
In the first camp, there are those who advocate for reducing or removing meat from our diets. Animal welfare groups like PETA and the Humane Society argue that one of the best ways to curb factory farming is to stop buying meat and dairy products altogether. While more people are embracing this path, vegans still just represent half of one percent of Americans.
To satisfy growing meat demand without killing more animals, innovators and food companies have also embraced plant-based proteins shaped and flavored to resemble conventional meat. But industry sales have been stagnant and analysts believe that's because these so-called ethical meat alternatives just aren't close enough to the real thing.
Innovators in our world of cultivated meat have found ways to make the world's only cruelty-free meat by mass producing animal cells in bioreactors without ever having to raise or slaughter an animal. The animal-based ingredients deliver the same flavor, taste, texture and overall sensory experience as conventional meat, without any of the ethical problems.
Why Is Cultivated Meat the Only Cruelty-Free Meat
Of all the ethical meat alternatives, cultivated meat is the only one that is both real and cruelty free. Here's why.
Cultivated Meat is Real Meat
Cultivated meat is the only alternative protein made with real meat. The base of cultivated meat is biomass – batches of animal cells that are mixed with natural ingredients, like plant-based proteins, to create chicken strips, lamb kebabs and other familiar cuts of meat.
It's Cruelty-Free Meat
How can meat made from real animal cells be cruelty-free?
Just a tiny vial of "starter" animal cells is enough, in theory, to produce many millions of pounds of meat. How? Under the right conditions, cells will constantly grow and divide, multiplying from a small line of cells to, eventually, huge batches of cells that cultivated meat companies can use to make their products.
The original "starter" cells must come from a living animal through a biopsy, but once companies have that starter batch, they don't need to go back to an animal ever again. The cells that Believer first sourced years ago to make our chicken, for example, are still proliferating today.
To ensure that cells keep proliferating forever (and to ensure that contact with living animals is as minimal as possible) cultivated meat companies have three choices:
Use stem cells that naturally multiply forever
Some companies only source stem cells that naturally multiply forever. These cells are much more difficult and expensive to maintain than other types of cells, but do offer the benefit of naturally proliferating indefinitely.
Genetically modify cells to multiply forever
Other companies genetically modify cells to prevent them from dying. Believer Meats does not do this. Our meat is 100% non-GMO, meaning that our cell line and every ingredient we use does not contain any genetically-modified organisms.
Isolate rare cells that spontaneously multiply forever
Instead, we identify and isolate fibroblast cells (our cells of choice) that spontaneously, but naturally multiply forever. So far, we have only had to source cells from a single animal per species of meat we make.
One ethical gray zone in the world of cultivated meat is the type of media companies use to keep their cells happy outside of an animal's body. To provide cells with the conditions they need to thrive in vitro, companies must keep cells in a liquid growth media that mimics the role of blood in an animal's body.
Some companies include fetal bovine serum (FBS) in their media, which is sourced from the blood of cow fetuses. To ensure our products require as little contact as possible with animals, our media is 100% FBS free. In fact, we get all of our media from non-animal sources.
What Animal Welfare Advocates Say About Cultivated Meat
PETA was one of the earliest funders of cultivated meat research and continues to be an important supporter of what it refers to as "slaughter-less meat." In response to recent news that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved UPSIDE Foods' cultivated chicken. The animal rights organization said they were "over the moon."
The ASPCA has also recognized "the potential of cellular meat, dairy and eggs to greatly reduce the number of animals used for food production," while calling for more information about the extent to which animals would be used to cultivated cells — information Believer Meats readily discloses. Overall, animal welfare supporters have recognized the potential of lab-grown cruelty-free meat.
Cultivated Meat's Animal Welfare Potential
As an emerging industry that is only available to consumers in Singapore (though rapidly approaching commercialization in the U.S.) it's too early to understand how much impact cultivated meat could have on animal welfare.
It all depends on the extent to which the industry scales. But what's clear is that any industry growth will save the lives of animals raised for human consumption.
Believer's Efforts to Scale Cruelty-Free Meat
To ensure that we're doing everything we can to scale — to reach as many consumers as possible — we've designed our entire cultivated meat-making process to maximize the amount of meat we make as economically as possible.
From the types of cells we use to our method of recycling the media we use to grow them, every step of our process aims to maximize our supply of cruelty-free meat to the masses, saving as many animals as possible along the way.