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Tuesday, June 21st, 2022

Taking animals out of the equation

Animal farming causes great suffering to billions of animals every year. By growing animal products directly at the cell level, cellular agriculture could result in a dramatic reduction in animal use and slaughter, and presents a major step forward in animal welfare. Read on to learn about the potential of cellular agriculture for reducing the use of animals in our food system.

Contemporary factory farming causes immense suffering to billions of animals. Every year, 80 billion land animals[1] and 2.3 trillion marine animals[2] are killed or slaughtered for food, while factory farming is responsible for 70% of species extinction.[3]

It’s time to transform our food system

One of the most obvious benefits of cellular agriculture is the dramatic reduction in the use of animals to produce meat, fish, dairy or eggs. By growing animal-based products at a cellular level, cultured-food products do not involve cruelty to animals. If the initial stage of production requires a cell sample from a donor animal, a biopsy is performed under anaesthesia and does not cause harm to the animal. According to professor Mark Post, a single cell sample can be used to produce up to 10,000 kgs of cultured meat.[4] Additionally, some cell lines can become immortalised, duplicating themselves endlessly, either spontaneously or intentionally through genetic alteration, meaning that the number of sampling biopsies would be reduced even further.

In addition to reducing the use of farm animals, cellular agriculture could also contribute to wildlife preservation. Using cellular agriculture to grow meat, ivory, and other coveted products that are usually produced from endangered species could help to reduce poaching and hunting. The startups Primeval Meats and Vow are great examples of cultured-meat companies that are focusing on cultivating cells from wild animals in order to produce meat.

By cultivating cells to produce animal-based products, cellular agriculture could become a game changer for animal welfare while providing people with the same products they know and love – without the need for animal farming.

People don’t want to use animals for food, they just want to eat certain products

Looking at video stores and streaming – people don’t want to go to a store and rent a film, they just want to watch the film. Which is why Blockbuster went bankrupt, and Netflix is now a billion-dollar business. The very same logic applies to animal and cellular agriculture: people don’t want to use animals for food – they just want to eat certain products.

In the past, after the necessary filming and editing, a film had to be transferred to millions of DVDs and shipped to video stores around the world. Viewers had to go to the video store to pick up a title and later go back to return it – and of course you had to have an appropriate player to watch the film. But technology has removed the need for this complicated process and dramatically shortened the road to viewing pleasure.

Animal agriculture currently looks like this: after the necessary planting and growing of feed crops, you need to breed animals, raise them, medicate them (including with valuable antibiotics), transport them, slaughter them, process them, and select the specific parts before you arrive at your desired food. Similar to the changes in video distribution detailed above, this is no longer the most straightforward approach if you just want to eat certain products. By cultivating cells to produce meat, cellular agriculture could drastically shorten the journey from plant sources to meat, without the detour of animal farming.

Replacing FBS: evidence for the sector

In order to multiply and differentiate as they would inside of an animal, cells in the cellular-agriculture process are grown in a nutrient-rich medium containing the same amino acids, proteins, sugars, vitamins, and growth factors that are found in the animal’s blood. In cellular agriculture’s early stages, researchers used fetal bovine serum (FBS) – a standard ingredient in the growth mediums used for medical tissue engineering. While it offers beneficial conditions as a growth-medium supplement, FBS has serious ethical and economic downsides since it requires blood from animals and is excessively expensive, making large-scale production at a reasonable price impossible.

As such, current research is focussed on replacing FBS with plant-based alternatives, and an increasing number of companies are successfully removing FBS from their production processes.

  • In 2019, Dutch cultured-meat pioneer company Mosa Meat was the first company to produce an FBS-free growth medium.[5] In 2020, the company reduced the cost of its growth-media production by 88 times after switching to an FBS-free medium.[6]
  • In 2021, Israeli cultured-meat company Aleph Farms and German technology company Wacker partnered to develop FBS-free growth mediums.[7]
  • In 2021, CellMEAT (South Korea), Upside Foods (US), and MeaTech (Israel) unveiled an FBS-free cell-culturing medium.[8] [9] [10]
  • In 2022, Mosa Meat published a peer-reviewed article in Nature Food which detailed how to achieve muscle differentiation without using FBS or genetically modifying the cells.[11]

Cellular agriculture: a ticket to a more ethical world?

There are an increasing number of solutions to the problems created by the unsustainable production of animal-based products. Plant-based, fermentation-derived, and cultured animal products all offer improvements on our current outdated food system. While ProVeg views a plant-based diet as a perfect multi-problem solution, a plant-based diet is the perfect solution only if everyone adopts it. When it comes to taste, ease, and perceptions, plant-based alternatives do not (yet) appeal to all consumers and it is difficult for many consumers to change eating habits that they have developed over the course of a lifetime. With the demand for meat set to explode due to increased living standards around the world, solutions that can contribute to a better food system are urgently needed. With the advent of cellular agriculture, we can finally take animals out of the equation and still enjoy animal-based food products. Offering products that people already know and enjoy, but without the negative impacts on the environment, human health, and animal welfare, could be a key factor in improving our food system.


Cultured meat could gradually reduce our reliance on animal farming and play an important role in increasing general ethical awareness about the practices involved in conventional animal farming. The example of synthetic and animal fur provides a good analogy. With an increasing range of plant-based and synthetic alternatives to fur available and a growing awareness of the cruelty inherent in animal fur, the use of animals for fur has become increasingly unacceptable and countries around the world have banned fur farming. The first country to ban fur farming in Europe was the UK in 2000, followed by Austria in 2005. Since then, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Luxembourg, Serbia, Italy, France, Northern Macedonia, and the Netherlands have all made fur farming illegal. In July 2021, Israel became the first country in the world to ban the sale of fur.[12]

The same scenario could play out for conventional agriculture. A growing awareness of the cruelty of animal farming, along with new production methods that renders the use of animals in food production unnecessary, could gradually reduce our reliance on animal farming and make it a broadly unacceptable practice.

ProVeg recommends

Alongside the development of cultured, plant-based, and fermentation-derived food products, it is important to continue to communicate about the impact of animal husbandry on the planet, public health, and the lives of animals, and to lobby for policy measures to combat the harms caused by factory farming.

References

References
1 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2022): Crops and livestock products. FAOSTAT Database. Rome, Italy. Available at: https://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/QCL [Accessed: 09.03.2022]
2 A. Mood and P. Brooke (2019): Numbers of fish caught from the wild each year. Available at http://fishcount.org.uk/fish-count-estimates-2/numbers-of-fish-caught-from-the-wild-each-year [09.12.2020]
3 Maxwell, Sean & Fuller, Richard & Brooks, Thomas & Watson, James. (2016). Biodiversity: The ravages of guns, nets and bulldozers. Nature. 536. 143-145. 10.1038/536143a.
4 ProVeg (2019): On a mission to create slaughter-free meat: Prof. Dr. Mark Post on food grown from cells. Available at:
https://corporate.proveg.com/on-a-mission-to-create-slaughter-free-meat-prof-dr-mark-post-on-food-grown-from-cells/ [12.05.2022]
5 Mosa Meat (2019): Growth Medium without Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS). Available at: https://mosameat.com/blog/growth-medium-without-fetal-bovine-serum-fbs [12.05.2022]
6 Mosa Meat (2021): Milestone: Over 80x cost reduction in our animal-free medium. Available at: https://mosameat.com/blog/milestone-over-80x-reduction-in-our-medium-cost [12.05.2022]
7 Amy Buxton (2021): Aleph Farms Announces Groundbreaking Partnership To Scale Cultivated Meat. Green Queen. Available at: https://www.greenqueen.com.hk/aleph-farms-partners-with-wacker [12.05.2022]
8 Amy Buxton (2021): South Korea’s CellMEAT Makes Fetal Bovine Serum-Free Cell Culture Media For 100% Ethical Cultivated Meat, Green Queen. Available at: https://www.greenqueen.com.hk/cellmeat-fetal-bovine-serum [12.05.2022]
9 Amy Buxton (2021): Upside Foods Announces Animal Component-Free Cell Media For Humane Cultivated Meat Development, Green Queen. Available at: https://www.greenqueen.com.hk/upside-foods-acf-cell-media [12.05.2022]
10 Amy Buxton (2021): MeaTech Files US Patent For FBS-Free, Affordable Cultured Fat, Green Queen. Available at: https://www.greenqueen.com.hk/meatech-patent-cell-based-fat/ [12.05.2022]
11 Mosa Meat (2022): Cultivating beef without FBS. Available at: https://mosameat.com/blog/cultivating-beef-without-fetal-bovine-serum [12.05.2022]
12 Four Paws (2022): FOUR PAWS advocates for an end of fur farming. Available at: https://www.four-paws.org/campaigns-topics/topics/animals-abused-for-fashion/fur-bans [12.05.2022]

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