Could cultured meat be a more ethical alternative to slaughtered animals? The world’s first “slaughter-free” hamburger was developed in 2013, at the eye-watering cost of €250,000 (by comparison, the average price of a Big Mac in the Eurozone is €4.56).
As the technology develops further, it’s possible to imagine a future where stem cells from a single cow produce thousands of kilograms of cultured meat. Might that help satisfy our demand for meat without the need for factory farming and slaughterhouses? Could cultured meat make for more ethical, environmentally-friendly, and sustainable diets?
Not so fast. Currently, the process of cultivating cells into sufficient quantities of meat for the dining room table is difficult without fetal bovine serum, which requires slaughtering pregnant cows. Clearly, this isn’t exactly a veggie-friendly option.
What do our readers think? We had an optimistic comment from Bart, who thinks we will indeed all soon be eating “lab-grown meat”, which he believes will be much better ethically and environmentally.
To get a response, we spoke to Green MEP Jutta Paulus, a member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. What would she say to Bart?
I think it is not yet possible to give a definitive answer to this question. So far, I haven’t seen any process that doesn’t use fetal bovine serum. This fetal bovine serum contains growth factors, which are needed to make the cell cultures grow under laboratory conditions. That means that you need a pregnant cow, you have to cut her open, kill the calf and take out the blood serum. This isn’t possible on a mass scale and there is still animal suffering.
For us, what is important is health, preventing animal suffering and, of course, it has to be sustainable. Speaking as somebody who used to work in a lab as a quality controller, I know how much effort is put into cell cultures and, at the moment, I don’t think there’s a suitable substitute to replace naturally grown meat.
UPDATE: Reacting to Jutta Paulus’ response, we had a comment sent in from Hélene Miller from Aleph Farms:
Thank you for the debate. Mrs. Paulus, I appreciate your input but I’d like to highlight that Aleph Farms, like all the other cultivated meat companies, does not plan to use any animal-derived ingredient (i.e fetal bovine serum) in their growth medium. The medium is intended to reproduce the same cell environment as inside the animal and will include the same nutrients; amino-acids, proteins, sugars, vitamins; and growth factors found in the animal blood. Most of those ingredients will be isolated from plants, and part of them might be produced by yeasts. Happy to continue the debate.
Next up, we had a comment from Pete, who has strong beliefs on this issue, saying: “I will go vegetarian before I eat lab-grown meat… and I’m a big meat eater.” Is there something off-putting about the idea of eating meat grown in a laboratory?
We asked Hélene Miller why some consumers reject cultured meat. She works at the start-up Aleph Farms, which produces cell-grown meat. How would she respond?
Finally, Christos sent us a comment saying he’s worried that lab-grown meat could be dangerous for our health. He believes the best approach is instead to eat less meat, not to turn to lab-grown meat. How would Green MEP Jutta Paulus?
At the beginning of November, the European Food Safety Authority visited us at the ENVI committee and I had the impression that they thoroughly check new food products that enter the market, what they contain, and how this will impact the health of consumers.
Of course, the human body is a very complex system and some issues may only be discovered later. I think the system that we have is a very good one but no system in the world would be able to detect all risks. I don’t believe that lab-grown meat or artificial meat are per se more dangerous or more harmful to our health than meat from factory farming, where you might have residue from antibiotics or pesticides from the animal feed, but we should ensure that we use the same standards to judge them.
Would you eat lab-grown meat? Is there something off-putting about the idea of eating meat grown in a laboratory? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts!