Cultured meat

What is cultured meat?


Cultured meat, also known as “lab-grown”, “cell-based” or “cultivated” meat, among other names, is produced by taking a small sample of animal cells and then replicating them outside of an animal to develop a meat product. All without killing an animal.

It tastes like meat, because it is meat – it is the exact same meat, just grown in a different way, but with zero animal cruelty. Cultured meat has the potential to be healthier, produces far fewer greenhouse gas emissions and has many other advantages over conventional meat.

What is cultured meat?

Cultured meat is created through a process called cell culture, a process that involves:

  1. Cell harvesting: A small sample of stem cells is taken from an animal or fertilized egg without harming them, typically through a biopsy.  
  2. Cell culturing: The harvested cells are placed in a nutrient-rich solution called a growth medium which provides the cells with the necessary nutrients to grow and multiply. 
  3. Cell multiplication: The cells then begin to multiply and form the components of meat (muscle, fat, connective tissue), just like they would inside an animal's body. This process is typically facilitated in a bioreactor, which provides an environment similar to the conditions found inside an animal's body. 
  4. Tissue formation: The multiplied cells organize themselves into muscle fibers, which eventually form into larger structures that resemble the texture and composition of conventional meat. 
  5. Harvesting: Once the cultured meat has reached a suitable size and texture, it is harvested. This involves removing it from the bioreactor and processing it into various meat products like burgers or nuggets. 

What are the benefits of cultured meat?

Cultured meat leads to less animal suffering

Tens of billions of land animals are slaughtered yearly for conventional meat, most of which are raised in industrialized factory farms that lead to significant suffering. Cultured meat on the other hand doesn’t need to kill a single animal.  

The process of cultured meat involves taking a small biopsy from a living animal – no animals need to be slaughtered for the cells.  

Full disclosure: In the early days of cultured meat production, serum was required from cow fetuses to produce the growth medium, which involved slaughter. However, this is an emerging field, and researchers are currently developing animal-free growth mediums to make this process truly a slaughter-free protein.  

Cultured meat has the potential to be healthier  

Compared to conventionally produced meat, cultured meat can offer significant health benefits to consumers.  

As it is produced in a controlled environment, it is free from antibiotics, growth hormones, and any other additives commonly used in traditional farming. Producers can also choose what’s in it, from exactly how much fat should be included in each burger to even replacing unhealthy fats with healthier alternatives. It’s possible we’ll soon see “no cholesterol” and “no saturated fats” varieties of popular foods on supermarket shelves.  

Additionally, thanks to the highly controlled environment it is produced in, cultured meat would likely reduce the spread of nasty zoonotic diseases.

Cultured meat is better for the environment

On top of the animal and human benefits, cultured meat also has a significantly lower impact on our environment. A study from the University of Oxford found that compared to the production of conventional meat, cultured meat:

  • Produces 96% lower greenhouse gas emissions 
  • Uses 45% less energy 
  • Utilizes 99% less land 
  • Uses 96% less water 

Are there downsides to cultured meat?

With every new development, there comes some downsides.

For one, the price. When the first cultured burger was created in 2013, it cost more than $300,000. But with more than 150 companies around the world working on advancing this technology, the price of cultured meat has decreased drastically. Just five years later in 2019, it costs under $10 to produce one burger! While this is still more expensive than conventional meat, the process is still being optimized and costs are expected to improve.

Secondly, it's not a simple process to upscale. To produce cultured meat in large enough quantities to be commercially viable, we would need large reactors – something that currently doesn’t exist.  

Nonetheless, this field of food production is still young and as it scales up to meet the demand for meat alternatives we will continue to learn the true impact of cultured meat.

What can you do to help animals?

The most immediate action you can take to help reduce farm animal suffering is to incorporate more plants and less animal products into your diet and shop with compassion.  

Understand grocery labels for animal products

You can help farm animals live a better life by making informed decisions at the grocery store.

Get your plan

Try our meatless meal planner to reduce your carbon emissions while making food choices that help improve the lives of animals.

Further reading:

How alternative proteins can combat climate change


Our dietary choices have far-reaching impacts, not only for our health, but for the health of our planet and the animals we share it with. Alternative proteins, including plant-based options and innovations like cultivated meat and precision fermentation, hold the potential to mitigate environmental challenges while addressing concerns about animal welfare and human health.

Sasha Rink

Why we should eat less meat


Eating less meat is good for the planet, good for animals, and good for your health.

Sasha Rink

How World Animal Protection eats more plant-based


Learn how World Animal Protection staff are eating more plant-based by incorporating easy (and tasty) alternatives into their week!

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