Cell-cultured meat? Is that a real thing? (Poultry Specialist)
(Editor’s note: Jennifer Timmons is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.)
The idea of growing meat in the lab may seem like science fiction, but the concept of this technology has changed from science fiction to the development of several businesses producing meat in a nontraditional manner.
Cellular agriculture uses different technologies to make products that are normally produced from livestock and poultry farming. Tissue engineering includes cultured meat in which cells or cell lines taken from living animals are tissue engineered to produce useable tissue with little animal tissue input. Cell-cultured meat production uses bioengineering processes that have been well established for medical applications.
According to an article in the Journal of Trends in Food Science and Technology, two projects were conducted in the early 2000s to produce culture tissue for food purposes.
One was a NASA funded group and another by two bioengineers who displayed their project as an art exhibit. These projects inspired others to investigate this technology.
In 2005, the Dutch government funded two research projects that pursed the production of cell-cultured pork meat. Following these developments, a Dutch professor and his team are credited for a highly publicized event in which the first ever cell-cultured based burger was cooked and eaten in a London press conference in 2013. As a result a number of small companies have formed in pursuit of producing marketable cell-cultured meat.
One of these companies is a U.S. company called Memphis Meats which has made demonstration cultured meat products such as chicken, duck and a meatball. In fact both Tyson and Cargill have invested in Memphis Meats which suggests they recognize the potential impact of cultured meat products on the market. Another company called Just released a video in 2017 highlighting cultured chicken nuggets. Finless Foods is a recent start-up business working on cultured fish.
This novel product when it reaches the market will have many challenges. How will it be defined? Will it be accepted by the consumer? A current challenge that is already being addressed is which agency will regulate it?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the USDA will jointly regulate cell-cultured food products that are made from livestock and poultry tissue. The FDA will be in charge of regulating the collection, banking and growing of the cells used to make cell-cultured meat, and the USDA will address the production and labeling of these cell-cultured food products.
This will allow complete oversight using the expertise of each agency.
Defining cell-culture meat products is another issue that is being discussed. Food identity and labeling continues to be a controversial topic for traditional agriculture. For example milk produced by livestock and alternative “milk” products from soy and almonds. Missouri recently passed legislation to define “meat” sold in the state had to come from “livestock or poultry carcasses or parts thereof.”
In response to that legislation, a lawsuit was filed by a number of plaintiffs stating the new law violates the First Amendment.
The Federal Meat Inspection Act states meat “is made wholly or in part from any meat or other portion of the carcass of any cattle, sheep, swine or goats.”
How one interprets “in part” is where the labeling debate begins.
As any new product enters a market, it offers challenges and competition for the existing products already on the market. The impact of these cell-cultured meat products on livestock and poultry is yet to be seen. One thing is for sure, as our food options change, animal agriculture will need to be prepared to produce products that are a viable option for the consumer.
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