Food Processing Industry: Issues and Developments

Cell-Based Meat: An Environmentally Friendly and Ethical Alternative


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Cultural meat mechanism

Mains level: Cultural meat, potential advantages and challnges


Central Idea

  • Cell-based meat, also known as cultured meat, is a promising alternative to traditional meat production that could offer ethical and environmental benefits. However, there are still many unknowns about its safety, nutritional value, and potential health risks that must be addressed.

What is Cell-based meat in short?

  • Cell-based meat, also known as cultured meat, lab-grown meat, or clean meat, refers to meat produced from animal cells grown in a laboratory, rather than from animals raised and slaughtered for meat.

Steps in the process of producing cell-based meat

  • Cell isolation: A small sample of cells is taken from an animal through a biopsy, which could be done using a needle or a small incision. The cells are typically muscle cells, which are capable of replicating and forming muscle tissue.
  • Cell culture: The cells are then placed in a culture medium, which provides the necessary nutrients and growth factors for the cells to multiply and form muscle tissue. The medium typically contains fetal bovine serum (FBS), which is derived from the blood of a cow fetus, but scientists are working to develop plant-based and other alternatives to FBS.
  • Tissue engineering: The muscle cells are then placed on a scaffold, which can be made of various materials such as collagen or cellulose. The scaffold provides structure and support for the cells to form muscle tissue.
  • Bioreactor cultivation: The scaffold with the muscle cells is then placed in a bioreactor, which provides a controlled environment for the muscle tissue to grow. The bioreactor can be adjusted to provide the right levels of oxygen, nutrients, and other factors for optimal growth.
  • Harvesting: Once the muscle tissue has grown to the desired size, it is harvested and processed into the final product, which can take various forms such as ground meat or whole cuts.

Report on cell-based meat market

  • A 2021 report by United States-based analytics firm Markets and Markets estimated that the global cell-based meat market will reach $214 million by 2027 at a compound annual growth rate of 61.4 per cent.
  • The report cites increasing concerns over animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and the growing demand for protein-rich foods as key drivers of market growth.
  • The firm recently received approval from Singapore Food Agency for its ‘chicken bites’ made from cultured meat. It is a significant step toward the future of food.

Advantages of cell-based meat

  • Environmental sustainability: The production of cell-based meat requires fewer resources such as land, water, and energy compared to traditional meat production. It also produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
  • For instance:
  1. A recent study published by Switzerland-based research publisher Frontiers mentions cell-based meat could reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 78 per cent and land use by up to 99 per cent.
  2. Another study by ACS Publications said that cell-based meat production could reduce GHG emissions by up to 96 per cent and land use by up to 99 per cent compared to traditional beef production.
  • Ethical: Cell-based meat production does not involve animal slaughter and hence is considered more humane.
  • Healthier: Cell-based meat can be produced with lower levels of saturated fat and no antibiotics or hormones. It can also be tailored to provide specific nutritional benefits.
  • Food security: As the global population continues to increase, traditional meat production may not be able to keep up with the demand for protein. Cell-based meat can provide an alternative source of protein that can be produced in a controlled and sustainable manner.
  • Pathogen-free: Cell-based meat is produced in a sterile and controlled environment, reducing the risk of pathogen contamination.
  • For instance: A team of researchers published a report in ScienceDirect in 2018, which says that cell-based meat production could reduce the risk of contamination by bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella. This would largely be due to the elimination of animal slaughter and reliance on antibiotics in animal husbandry.
  • No harmful growth hormones: Lab-grown meats are free of growth hormones as well. Commercial livestock factories use these hormones to expedite the growth of farm animals. Their excess use has harmful health outcomes.
  • For instance: A European Union-appointed research committee examined six growth hormones used in raising cattle. It concluded that the growth hormones had developmental, neurobiological, genotoxic, and carcinogenic effects.

Potential challenges of cell-based meat

  • Culture medium: Researchers have yet to develop a culture medium that is completely free of animal-derived components. The use of fetal bovine serum, for example, contradicts the ethical standards of lab-grown meat production.
  • Health effects: The health effects of consuming cell-based meat are still unknown, and there are concerns about dysregulation and the development of cancerous properties in cultured meat.
  • Consumer acceptance: Most consumers still prefer natural products and may be hesitant to adopt cell-based meat due to its “unnatural” origins. Educating consumers about the safety, quality, and sustainability of cell-based meat will be important for its commercial success.
  • Variety: Researchers have not yet developed true muscle with an organized network of blood vessels, which makes it difficult to reproduce the original flavor and taste of meat derived from different species.
  • Cost: Currently, the production of cell-based meat is more expensive than traditional meat production. As the technology advances and economies of scale are achieved, it is expected that the cost will decrease, but it may take some time before cell-based meat becomes cost-competitive with traditional meat.

Way ahead

  • Addressing the cost: Currently, cell-based meat is expensive to produce. Research and development should focus on finding ways to reduce production costs and making the final product more affordable.
  • Improving the taste and texture: While cell-based meat is similar to traditional meat, there are still some differences in taste and texture. Researchers need to work on improving the taste and texture to make it more appealing to consumers.
  • Increasing variety: Currently, only a limited range of cell-based meats are available. Researchers need to work on producing different types of meat to offer consumers a wider range of options.
  • Addressing regulatory concerns: As cell-based meat is a new technology, there are still some regulatory concerns that need to be addressed. Governments and regulatory bodies should work with the industry to establish guidelines and regulations to ensure the safety and quality of cell-based meat products.
  • Educating consumers: Consumer awareness and education are key to the success of cell-based meat. People need to be made aware of the benefits of cell-based meat and be educated about how it is produced and the safety and quality standards that are in place.


  • Cell-based meat can be the food of the future as it is free of antibiotics, germs, and doesn’t emit GHGs. However, their success depends on developing new cell lines and optimising growth conditions to produce meat that is more similar in texture, flavour, and nutritional composition to traditional meat. The health risks and consumer acceptance of cell-based meats are still largely unknown, so rigorous testing and regulatory oversight are needed to meet high safety standards.

Mains question

Q. Cultured meat is becoming a promising alternative to traditional meat production, however there are also potential risks associated with it. Discuss.

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