Clean Meat: The Clean Energy of the Food World

17th Sep 2021
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From bacon butties and sizzling sausages to big burgers and succulent steaks; as a global population we are consuming over 346.14 million tonnes of meat every year. And, despite the various warnings urging us to cut down on meat (especially red meat), this amount is expected to increase by 73% by 2050.

But, the production and consumption of meat, coupled with a growing population, is having a hugely negative effect on animal welfare, the environment and our health. In fact:

  • Livestock are responsible for around 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions
  • Eating meat results in 45,000 deaths from heart disease, cancer and strokes each year
  • Over 50 billion animals are imprisoned in cruel and immoral factory farms before being led to slaughter

So, it’s clear: we need to find an alternative to meat – and fast.

But if plant-based products such as Tofurky, Facon, or Soyrizo don’t tickle your tastebuds, why not try clean meat…

What is clean meat?

In 2013, the first ‘real meat’ burger was produced without harming any animals. This marked the beginning of what we’re now calling the ‘clean meat’ (also known as lab-grown, in vitro, or cultured meat) industry.

Not to be confused with plant-based meat replacements such as the aforementioned ‘Tofurkey’ or ‘Facon’, or ‘clean eating’ where you only eat lean, unprocessed and healthy food - clean meat is meat that’s been grown in a lab through cell culture, rather than through an animal who has then had to be slaughtered.

It looks, tastes and smells like meat, but it’s just been grown in a different way. The meat is produced by taking animal cells and replicating them inside a lab rather than inside an animal.

Let’s find out more …

How is clean meat made? 

Conventional meat is basically just a group of cells, grown inside an animal. To get that meat from that animal, it must be slaughtered. 

Clean meat is a group of cells that are taken from that animal via a harmless and non-invasive biopsy. These cells are then placed inside a cultivator which tricks the cells into thinking they’re still inside the animal. With the help of 50 to 100 added ingredients – such as enzymes, sugars, salts, pH buffers, amino acids, micronutrients and growth factor proteins – the cells begin to develop and mature into muscle tissue.

And, if this process works, the result will be a product that has the same taste and texture as minced beef, chicken, or pork.

However, creating a structured piece of meat like a chicken breast or a fillet steak is a bit trickier. Minced meat products combine several ingredients to cultivate muscle fibres that are then harvested and assembled into a burger or meatball type product.

But to produce structured meats though, the cells must be attached to a type of scaffold that moves and stretches as the muscle is developing to simulate an animal’s body.

All this sounds incredibly scientific and somewhat artificial. But wait until you hear the benefits this type of meat production will bring…

The benefits of clean meat

“[Clean meat] offers the potential to produce ‘meat’ products without the environmental and social risks embedded in the current meat production industry.” - FAIRR

When the first clean meat burger hit the headlines in 2013 consumer reactions were mixed. The idea of eating a burger that was made in a lab and not a kitchen gave some the shivers. Others looked past that and saw the positive impact that this concept and new breakthrough technology could have on our animals, our planet and our health.

Clean meat will stop animal cruelty

The emerging technology that’s enabling us to produce clean meat means that no animals need to be harmed or killed to provide us with a couple of sausages or a nice pork chop.

Because we only need to remove a few cells from the animal to create clean meat, it means that the mass slaughter of animals can be eradicated, and livestock could just be used as cell donors instead. And, because we don’t need to slaughter animals on a regular basis anymore, it means that cruel factory farms can be shut down for good. Out of the 70 billion animals that are bred for meat products, 50 billion of them are crammed into factory farm cages, crates or pens and unable to engage in their natural behaviour.

Clean meat technology has the potential to end the disgusting treatment, danger, and disease that comes with breeding and processing animals for consumption.

Clean meat is better for the environment

Fewer resources, like land, water and oil, are needed to produce clean meat. In fact, it takes one-tenth of the water and one-hundredth of the land to create clean meat than it does to produce conventional meat. Being able to conserve land, water and habitats means that environmental issues such as land degradation, loss of biodiversity, greenhouse gases, and air and water pollution will be reduced.

Clean meat is better for us

Although it’s an alien concept, because clean meat is produced in a lab, it means that producers can choose exactly what goes into the meat. So, they can control the amount of fat that goes into each sausage or burger and replace saturated fatty acids with healthier alternatives such as omega-3 fatty acids. This means they can produce products that have no cholesterol and are saturated fat-free. Imagine: Guilt free burgers! 

Clean meat will help us live longer

On top of the ability to produce healthier meat products, clean meat can also prevent us from consuming the antibiotics that have been given to the animals we’re eating. The overuse of antibiotics in farming has been highlighted as one of the biggest threats to humanity. More and more drugs are being pumped into animals to prevent disease and prolong life, but these antibiotics are filtering through into the meat that we’re eating. This means that, without even realising it, we’re building up a resistance to vital drugs that cure common infections. 

Essentially many common infections will no longer have a cure and will, once again, kill in huge numbers as they did hundreds of years ago.” – World Animal Protection

Clean meat will have zero antibiotics or pesticides in it, and, because it’s produced in a sterile environment, exposure to harmful foodborne pathogens, such as salmonella, and E-coli could be prevented or at least detected early.

Conclusion

Clean meat is rooted in the idea that cultured meat provides a cleaner alternative to slaughtered meat, both in terms of sanitation and environmental impact.” - FAIRR

Although clean meat isn’t available to buy from your local supermarket yet, it won’t be long before it will be.

Hundreds of entrepreneurs, scientists and researchers are working hard to develop the technology that will produce cultivated meat that looks, smells and tastes like meat, but that also addresses the environmental, animal and social issues that surround conventional meat production. In fact, over the course of just a year, investment in this sector grew by 85%! Plus, with the government-funded R&D tax credit incentives that are available for innovative biotech or food production firms, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be adding clean meat burgers, sausages, and steaks to your shopping list.

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