Today we will see what the science of cultured meat is, a trend that will most likely dictate the consumption of meat in the future of humanity, and its potential impact on environmental conservation.
By coincidence, last week, it was announced that the planet’s population had reached eight billion. It only took 12 years to go from seven billion to the current figure. It will take 14.5 years to reach nine billion, and it is estimated that by the year 2050, we will be almost 10 billion and 11.2 billion by 2100.
Among the multiple challenges of facing such a population explosion, is that of feeding such a large population. Knowing that a healthy diet must contain high quality protein, the development of foods with this vital nutrient is a priority. Although it is possible to obtain proteins from plants (quinoa, soy), the highest quality proteins are those obtained from animals.
Today, obtaining animal protein is based on the animal agriculture model, in which animals are raised, slaughtered, and their parts distributed on the market. The problem is that, due to excessive grazing and fishing, the loss of habitat, the accumulation of waste from the meat industry, this model is considered one of the main causes of environmental degradation.
“While it is possible to get protein from plants (quinoa, soybeans), the highest quality proteins are those obtained from animal products.”
For example, animal agriculture produces 65% of the world’s nitrous oxide emissions, a gas that has an impact on global warming 296 times greater than that of CO2. On the other hand, raising livestock for human consumption generates almost 15% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, which is greater than all emissions from transportation combined. Also, animal agriculture uses almost 70% of agricultural land, making it the main contributor to deforestation, biodiversity loss and water pollution. Finally, it is estimated that 82% of the world’s children who suffer from hunger live in countries where food is fed to cattle, which is then sold to richer and more developed countries.
The development of cultured meats would be part of the solution to the problem created by animal agriculture. Using 100% renewable energy in production plants, cultured meat development uses 77% less water and 62% less land than conventional meat.
In a letter sent to the FDA, the Upside Foods company outlines the steps taken to develop cultured chicken meat. In the letter, the steps to obtain the final product are specified in detail.
First is the isolation of two cell lines from chicken tissues, which include myoblasts (muscle cells) derived from muscle tissue and fibroblasts derived from skin tissue from two fertilized eggs. Because isolated and cultured cells have a cell division cycle limited to 40 to 60 cell divisions (Hayflick limit), scientists have succeeded in suppressing the cells’ ability to senescence and genetically modifying their ability to divide (immortalization), allowing their use for years, if not decades, reducing the need to sample additional cells from animals.
Once the appropriate cells are obtained, they are deposited in cultivators (bioreactors) containing a proprietary cell culture medium, optimized for the needs of the cells, and containing amino acids, fatty acids, sugars, trace elements, salts and vitamins, which are found in animal and human food.
“It is very likely that in the future we will stop raising animals for slaughter and that we will consume artificially produced meat of all kinds.”
The cultivator maintains adequate temperature and oxygen levels for cells to grow and multiply, and tissues are moved to larger bioreactors as tissue volume increases.
Finally, the tissues are harvested after about three weeks, resulting in a slightly paler product, but otherwise similar to raw chicken. Once harvested, the meat is ready to be inspected, prepared, packaged, and distributed. The final product is a meat that is between 70% and 80% moisture, 10% to 20% protein, 1% to 5% fat, and 1% to 5% ash. Verification that the final product is chicken meat is done by demonstrating that the muscle-derived amino acid composition is similar to meat, and the product is shown to contain tropomyosin, an important protein marker of skeletal muscle. Anecdotal evidence appears on the Upside Foods website, showing people expressing their complete satisfaction in trying artificial meat.
The FDA’s response to the Upside Foods letter says that “premarket voluntary consultation is not an approval process.” “Rather, it means that, after our careful evaluation of the data and information shared by the company, we have no further questions at this time about the company’s security conclusion,” he clarifies.
This opens the way so that once the Department of Agriculture inspects the artificial meat manufacturing plant, it can begin to distribute and sell the product, which is estimated to be available next year. Singapore has already authorized its sale in 2021.
It is very likely that, in the future, we will stop raising animals for slaughter and that we will consume artificially produced meat of all kinds (including seafood).
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