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Animal Welfare Series: clean meat

In a 1931, an issue of The Strand Magazine published an article by Winston Churchill titled “Fifty Years Hence”, he predicted the following:

[Fifty years hence], we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.

Conventional meat produced by rearing animals is associated with various important global problems, including greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, worldwide, 14.5% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock supply chains (FAO, 2016), thereby contributing to climate change. Moreover, currently, livestock raised for meat use 30% of global ice-free terrestrial land and 8% of global freshwater (Tuomisto et al., 2011).

Additionally, many experts now believe that non-human animals have conscious experiences (Low et al., 2012). Moreover, empirical evidence suggests that many mammals and birds typically produced in agriculture, as well as fish, have the capacity feel pain (Sneddon et al., 2014). Hence, various animal welfare advocates are concerned that industrial farming practices create widespread suffering.

In recent years, there has been increasing interest in alternative ways of producing meat, such as by way of producing animal muscle cells through tissue culture in a controlled factory environment, to produce clean meat. After selecting starter cells, these are treated to promote tissue growth, placed in a cultivator such as a bioreactor, supplied with energy requirements, and scaffolded to create a three-dimensional structure of animal tissue (Post, 2012).

If clean meat were available at a similar price to farmed animal products, consumption of these products could replace some amount of the demand for farmed animal products (ACE, 2017). However, consumer acceptance of clean meat is still uncertain. Some survey evidence suggests that acceptance of clean meat will vary substantially across cultures (Bryant et al., 2019).

In this part of the Animal Welfare Question series, we pose questions about the future of clean meat, in terms of the size of the industry, the successes of the relevant companies, and the commercial launch of clean meat products: