The relationship between humans and other animals has been one of juxtaposition for thousands of years. Human desire for meat – whether for reasons of culture, society, or survival long ago – has resulted in predation, domestication, and the wide-spread industrial animal agriculture that is today harming the planet, the people, and of course the animals. But could clean meat help alter that relationship so we stop viewing other animals as edible products versus sentient beings?
Vegans and vegetarians don’t eat meat at all. They may eat “meat-like” products made from products like soy and grains, or they limit their diets to fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and the like. Either way, they don’t contribute to factory farming or the slaughter of animals for human consumption.
Vegans take this practice a step further by avoiding all animal products, whether for ingestion or another use. They don’t eat eggs or dairy products, for instance, and they don’t use leather or fur products.
Clean meat promises to bridge the gap between meat eaters and vegans and vegetarians, perhaps raising awareness about how animals suffer for our evening steak, but it may still be slightly controversial for some vegans. As I’ll explain below, clean meat contains actual meat – but only one single cell from an actual living animal is needed.
So, what does clean meat have to offer anyone who enjoys the taste of meat? And how will vegans and vegetarians react to clean meat as it becomes mainstream — assuming it does?
People Want to End Animal Slaughter
In the United States alone, more than 43 million households count dogs among their family members. More than 36 million households have cats, and 3.6 million have birds.
Even more illuminating, one study revealed that 44 percent of Millennials view their furry friends as “starter children.” In other words, their pets are considered valuable parts of their families, which is more evidence that we’re living in a culture of animal lovers.
Why then will American meat consumption hit an all-time high in 2018? Is it because people think morally differently of dogs, cats, and birds than they do of pigs and cows? Or is it because we’ve normalized meat eating and packaged meat products to disassociate the “end product” from the animal who supplied it?
Each item in the photographed trays above contains a meat product. Just looking at the bacon, steak, and other meats, however, you wouldn’t automatically picture the cow or pig that was killed to make these products.
If you asked consumers to look at a photograph of the animal that was butchered for each of these cuts, many would likely walk away. It’s easier to consume meat when it’s considered separate from its source.
By and large, though, most people don’t want to think about the painful experiences farmed animals go through. It’s easier to not watch that video, avoid that news segment, click away from that article, and end conversations with vegans than to face what really happens to sentient creatures in service to human appetites.
Clean Meat: A Logical Solution to the Meat Industry
I’m calling clean meat “logical” because it is a solution stemming from technological progress and situational pressure. We can now grow tissue cells without needing the whole animal, and we are in dire need of doing so at a massive scale to reduce and ultimately eliminate the effects of industrial animal agriculture.
There are small bits of controversy around clean meat. Yes, the clean meat industry still requires cells from actual animals, which means that we’re still at least by proxy using animals for food. However, you really only need one tissue cell from an animal to grow more of the same cell for clean meat. This is as painless as an injection would be. Switching meat consumption to clean meat would mean millions of times less animal suffering than today.
Clean Meat is for Meat Eaters, Not Vegans and Vegetarians
In an interview with VegNews, Human Society spokesperson Paul Shapiro comes down in favor of clean meat. He says, “The problem of factory farming is just so severe that you need multiple solutions. Just as with fossil fuels, you don’t want just one alternative, like wind. You also want solar and more. Similarly, plant-based meats are a great solution to the factory farming problem, but you also want other alternatives, including clean meat.”
He goes on to say that clean meat isn’t vegan. “It’s not an alternative to meat: It is meat.” However, he notes that “When you consider how inhumanely and unnaturally meat is produced, clean meat seems like the naturally preferable option.”
And clean meat is not being made for vegans and vegetarians. That would be redundant since those people have already stopped eating meat. Clean meat is potentially a faster way to offer current meat-consuming public a way to pollute less and to cause much less animal suffering than by eating meat coming from the factory farming and slaughtering process.
I’ve written before about the horrors involved with factory farming. Animals are treated like objects rather than sentient beings, and unlike objects, they can experience pain, fear, hopelessness, and distress.
By creating an alternative solution to the meat industry, such as clean meat — also called “cultured meat” and many other names, as mentioned above — we will be able to make a positive impact on the lives of millions of animals who would otherwise face grim conditions and eventual slaughter.
What Is Clean Meat?
Clean meat, which is also referred to as cultured meat or lab-grown meat, is cell-based meat that is identical to the meat that comes from animals. However, clean meat uses lab-grown cells that don’t require the use of live animals and will have many benefits that include sparing the lives of tens of billions of animals per year and a much cleaner carbon footprint as the process is much more environmentally friendly.
It’s best not to think of it as animal meat. Why? Because it doesn’t come from slaughtered animals. It’s raised in a lab, completely separate from the animal who “donated” it and doesn’t result in the animal’s death.
Of course, some will say it’s not a perfect alternative to meat because animals are still needed to provide the initial source material. But such black-and-white argumentation is not helpful in our current situation.
The Bigger Picture
Animals are dying by the billions, none without a fight, for human motives. As soon as it is economically feasible, clean meat will dramatically cut down on animal slaughter, eliminate the need to continually breed animals for their meat, and enables previously suffering animals to live fuller, more enjoyable lives.
Since clean meat only requires the extraction of small cells, the remaining animals can live free on large plots of land, eat natural diets, socialize with one another, and raise their young – although we should bear in mind that most animals in industrial agriculture aren’t capable of even reproducing naturally (so any worries about runaway overpopulation by livestock are highly misplaced).
Such a shift could reduce the livestock population by as much as we desire, which would free up grain used to keep slaughterhouse animals fed for people who live in or near starvation.
And yes, this would also mean much fewer animals, which is sometimes taken as an inconsistency in the vegan argument – when successful, veganism will cause there to be fewer animals in the world, so how can vegans say they care about animals? This is correct – less suffering animals. I will go into the depths of this argument in a future article.
How Is Clean Meat Made?
Clean meat is created through a laboratory process using media. This is essentially a combination of nutrients and other growth factors mimicking the tissue’s growth environment to promote cell growth. The process involves extracting cells from actual animals. The cells are transferred into a bioreactor before being funneled into special scaffolding.
The technology is solid and constantly developing, but clean meat has not yet made it to market. What we know is that cultured meat will offer another alternative to cruelty toward livestock and other animals.
Will it solve all the problems the world’s animals face? No – but given the sheer volume of animals on factory farms, it comes close. It will also be a huge leap toward educating consumers about what they eat and the plights of factory-farmed animals.
The process of creating clean meat is different depending on the company cultivating it, but it involves much of the same technology.
Cells Are Extracted From Real Animals
In most cases, lab meat comes from stem cells, fully differentiated (meaning that they have already developed into their final form) muscle cells, or “satellite cells” (which are somewhere between stem cells and fully differentiated cells) extracted from living animals. These cells represent the beginning of a piece of meat that a person might consume after the process concludes.
When we consume “real” meat, we’re eating the muscle, fat, and other parts of the animal. Clean meat attempts to use the cells to grow muscle cells in a bioreactor, which I’ll cover in a minute, so it can be transformed into a meat product originating with real animal cells.
But No Animal is Killed to Create Clean Meat
The difference between cultured meat and “real” meat is that no animal has to lose its life to provide meat for human consumption. The extracted cells don’t kill the animal. One animal can provide multiple extractions, and more importantly, one extraction can ultimately provide huge amounts of clean meat.
Think of clean meat as a stepping stone between supporting factory farming and adopting an entirely vegan lifestyle. Eating clean meat will save animals’ lives and be better for the planet, even without an ethical decision by the consumer. But there is something very promising about the ethics around clean meat.
Put Your Pet in the Position of a Factory Farmed Animal
If you have a pet, such as a dog, think about your relationship. You work cooperatively in your day-to-day lives. Your pet provides love, companionship, entertainment, and loyalty. In turn, you offer those same things in addition to food, water, shelter, and access to things your pets can’t get on their own.
We don’t think of Fido or Fluffy as food. In fact, for most of us, the idea of turning any dog or cat into food meant for human consumption turns our stomachs. At least, it does mine. Yet we’re not affording our farm friends that same courtesy. Instead of allowing them to live freely, without exploitation, we’re processing them for our benefit.
In addition to providing a clean source of nutrition, a major promise of clean meat is increasing human awareness of animal treatment in the intensive factory farming context.
By having the choice between animal meat and clean meat, consumers get to ask themselves how they are different. What went into getting this veal into this vacuum-sealed packaging? Was there suffering involved? Did a sentient animal have to die for this food?
There are many unknowns about clean meat, but it is extremely promising for many reasons. As mentioned above, it is dramatically better than factory farms that slaughter billions of animals each year. It can even get people to ask questions about their food in more profound ways.
Growing Cells in a Bioreactor
A bioreactor is used to cultivate stem cells into muscle cells. These cells multiply, creating the basis for lab-grown meat. While a “bioreactor” may sound scary, it is much like fermenting beer, and some companies are even using fermentation-like processes to make clean meat. So don’t be put off by the clinical terms at this early point in the industry.
A Scaffold Is Used to Mimic Animal Movement and Develop the Muscle
Cells by themselves aren’t meat — whether the clean or “unclean” variety. Columns, called scaffolding, are used to manipulate the cells so they grow into muscles. The process seeks to mimic the process of an animal growing and developing before slaughter. The satellite cells used in most processes actually need an anchor, a structure where they can hang on to, and that’s also why scaffolding is necessary.
Scientists can then harvest the muscle, add fat and dye, and create different types of meat. There are also companies developing clean fat tissue. Currently, clean meat resembles minced meat, which means it often comes in the form of ground beef or patties. It’s possible to create muscle structures, like a chicken breast, but the technical challenges are still larger than the minced clean meat.
Why Choose Clean Meat (when you can)?
The best reason to choose clean meat is to support an industry that seeks to reduce factory farming and save animals’ lives. It’s true that we’re still viewing animals as meat, but people who might never consider vegetarianism or veganism might very well eat clean meat instead of the other variety – especially when it hits the three key elements of taste, price, and convenience. Recent studies by Faunalytics show that most Americans are happy to try clean meat.
Vegetarians only represent about 3.2 percent of the American population by one estimate. Other countries might have larger or smaller percentages of vegetarians, but most of the world consumes meat and animal by-products. This is a problem.
Introducing clean meat can help reduce the consumption of slaughtered animals and convince factory farmers to change their ways. If even a small percentage of the population decides to go with clean meat (when it becomes available, that is), we’ll have grown one step closer to creating a fair world for animals of all types.
Promote Animal Welfare
Animal rights activists work tirelessly to educate the public about veganism, vegetarianism, and the plight of livestock all over the world. Is eating clean meat “better” than going vegan? Not necessarily, but it could be a faster path to ending animal farming than trying to convert the whole world to go vegan. If you can’t possibly see yourself giving up meat entirely, lab-grown meat will offer a much more humane alternative.
Animal abuse and neglect have become commonplace on factory farms – so common, that they are not even thought of as anything other than a part of the process. You might have seen images or videos to demonstrate that fact.
Conserve Human Health
Animals raised on factory farms come with all types of human hazards, from feces in the meat to harmful hormones and antibiotics. Extreme forms of genetic mutations can also have a negative impact on human health.
As much as you might enjoy that Saturday night burger, ingesting meat from factory farms can put your pulmonary, respiratory, and cardiac systems at risk. Many consumers don’t understand meat labeling, such as those products that purport to come from “free-range” or “cage-free” sources.
Furthermore, if we don’t understand how to read labels and interpret them correctly, we don’t really know what we’re putting in our bodies. Lab-grown meat establishes a safer, more healthy option for consuming meat.
Reduce Environmental Impact
Greenhouse gases, including carbon and methane emissions, are among the strongest arguments for cultured meat. Factory farms produce tremendous pollution. It consumes enormous amounts of land, water, energy, and crops, and contaminates soil, air, and groundwater.
Taking just a few cells from an animal and growing meat that might become a burger or steak is far more sustainable than breeding millions of animals for slaughter. Not only does the latter practice harm animals and contribute to their suffering, but it’s hard on our natural resources.
We have to feed and water all those animals, and to what end? They don’t live out their natural lives but instead find themselves suffering before dying in slaughterhouses. That’s not a sustainable way to feed humanity.
By reducing the amount of food and water we need to give to farmed animals, we can feed and water humans who today don’t even have access to basic necessities.
Is Clean Meat as Nutritional as Animal Meat?
Lab-grown meat can feasibly have the same nutritional content as meat that comes from a slaughtered animal. Importantly, it can have much better nutritional content, as it is literally constructed from individual cells. In the future, we might even see “designer clean meats” constructed for a certain nutrition need or gastronomical culinary experience. If you are a foodie, you should be very excited about this prospect.
It’s safe to say that cultured meat is more controllable. Technology can help us create the ideal nutritional profile for clean meat, which can make it healthier for our bodies.
Is Clean Meat Safe?
There’s no reason to believe that clean meat wouldn’t be safe for human consumption. On the contrary, it’s a natural process, the technology for which has been in development for decades. Companies that have invested in clean meat have been able to piggyback on research conducted for other purposes.
Clean meat is much safer than “real” meat when you look at the big picture of the health impact of the animal agriculture industry.
Consider all the recalls and deaths associated with factory-farmed meat. As recently as September 2018, the FDA recalled ground beef contaminated with E.coli. The outbreak resulted in six hospitalizations and one death. That’s just one contamination outbreak that has impacted human health. Because of the substandard handling of meat in slaughterhouses, bacteria like E.coli can flourish. In the lab, scientists can ensure the products’ safety and immediately identify any potentially harmful infections.
Factory farming has produced swine and avian flu (named because they most likely started from hog farms and poultry farms). These diseases along have killed thousands around the world.
When Will I Be Able to Buy Clean Meat?
Clean meat is not yet available on the market. It could be anywhere from two to five years before it’s readily available, so these are still early days.
If you’re interested in promoting clean meat, share this article and educate your friends and family members. Make sure there’s a market for these products if you want to save animals from needless suffering, have more opportunities to eat healthily, and to reduce the massive negative impact of factory farming.
Clean meat is a logical solution for ending factory farming. It is a huge step in the right direction.
Every industry experiences revolution. In this case, we’re looking at revolutionary technology that could change the way the average consumer views and understands meat.
Similar technologies will produce alternatives to dairy, eggs, honey, and other consumable products that depend on taking away from animals.
You’ll want to stay up-to-date with the latest news on animal matters. Subscribe to the Sentient Media newsletter, check our blog regularly, and let us know what you think about clean meat.
Would you buy lab-grown meat? Why or why not?
Grant is the co-founder of Sentient Media. He currently lives in Brazil and has traveled across dozens of countries on assignment.