Stem cells could be future source for ‘eco-friendly’ meat, study

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 11th June 2014
Stem cells could be future source for 'eco-friendly' meat, a study has found

The scientific progress that has made it possible to dream of a future in which faulty organs could be regrown from stem cells also holds potential as an ethical and greener source for meat, according to researchers from Wageningen University in The Netherlands.

The researchers suggested in an article published in the Cell Press journal Trends in Biotechnology that every town or village could one day have its very own small-scale, cultured meat factory.

”We believe that cultured meat is part of the future,” said Cor van der Weele of Wageningen University in The Netherlands.

It is already possible to make meat from stem cells. To prove it, Mark Post, a professor of tissue engineering at Maastricht University, The Netherlands, presented the first lab-grown hamburger in 2013.

However, in their new research paper, Professor van der Weele and Professor Tramper outlined a potential meat manufacturing process, starting with a vial of cells taken from a cell bank and ending with a pressed cake of minced meat. But they said there would be challenges when it came to maintaining a continuous stem cell line and producing cultured meat that was cheaper than meat obtained in the usual way. Most likely, the researchers said, the price of ”normal” meat would first have to rise considerably.

“Cultured meat has great moral promise,” the researchers wrote. “Worries about its unnaturalness might be met through small-scale production methods that allow close contact with cell-donor animals, thereby reversing feelings of alienation. From a technological perspective, ‘village-scale’ production is also a promising option,” they wrote.

“Other parts of the future are partly substituting meat with vegetarian products, keeping fewer animals in better circumstances, perhaps eating insects, etc,” Professor van der Weele said. “This discussion is certainly part of the future in that it is part of the search for a ‘protein transition.’ It is highly effective in stimulating a growing awareness and discussion of the problems of meat production and consumption,” Professor van der Weele said.

Professor van der Weele and coauthor Johannes Tramper said that the rising demand for meat around the world was “unsustainable” in terms of environmental pollution and energy consumption.

Professor van der Weele said she first heard about cultured meat in 2004, when frog steaks were served at a French museum while the donor frog watched on. Professor Tramper has studied the cultivation of animal cells—mostly insect cells—in the lab for almost 30 years. In 2007, he published a paper suggesting that insect cells might be useful as a food source.