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Bringing cultured meat to market: Technical, socio-political, and regulatory challenges in Cellular Agriculture

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Abstract

Background Cultured meat forms part of the emerging field of cellular agriculture. Still an early stage field it seeks to deliver products traditionally made through livestock rearing in novel forms that require no, or significantly reduced, animal involvement. Key examples include cultured meat, milk, egg white and leather. Here, we focus upon cultured meat and its technical, socio-political and regulatory challenges and opportunities. Scope and approach The paper reports the thinking of an interdisciplinary team, all of whom have been active in the field for a number of years. It draws heavily upon the published literature, as well as our own professional experience. This includes ongoing laboratory work to produce cultured meat and over seventy interviews with experts in the area conducted in the social science work. Key findings and conclusions Cultured meat is a promising, but early stage, technology with key technical challenges including cell source, culture media, mimicking the in-vivo myogenesis environment, animal-derived and synthetic materials, and bioprocessing for commercial-scale production. Analysis of the social context has too readily been reduced to ethics and consumer acceptance, and whilst these are key issues, the importance of the political and institutional forms a cultured meat industry might take must also be recognised, and how ambiguities shape any emergent regulatory system.
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Trends in Food Science & Technology
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/tifs
Review
Bringing cultured meat to market: Technical, socio-political, and regulatory
challenges in cellular agriculture
Neil Stephens
a,,1
, Lucy Di Silvio
c,1
, Illtud Dunsford
b,1
, Marianne Ellis
d,1
, Abigail Glencross
e,1
,
Alexandra Sexton
f,1
a
Social and Political Sciences, Brunel University London, Kingston Lane, Uxbridge, UB8 3PH, United Kingdom
b
Charcutier Ltd, Felin y Glyn Farm, Pontnewydd, Llanelli, SA15 5TL, United Kingdom
c
Kings College London, Floor 17, Tower Wing Guy's London, United Kingdom
d
Dept of Chemical Engineering, Claverton Down, Bath, BA2 7AY, United Kingdom
e
Weston Park Farm, Weston, SG1 7BX, United Kingdom
f
Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, 34 Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BD, United Kingdom
ARTICLE INFO
Keywords:
Cellular agriculture
Cultured meat
Clean meat
In vitro meat
Society
Regulation
ABSTRACT
Background: Cultured meat forms part of the emerging eld of cellular agriculture. Still an early stage eld it
seeks to deliver products traditionally made through livestock rearing in novel forms that require no, or sig-
nicantly reduced, animal involvement. Key examples include cultured meat, milk, egg white and leather. Here,
we focus upon cultured meat and its technical, socio-political and regulatory challenges and opportunities.
Scope and approach: The paper reports the thinking of an interdisciplinary team, all of whom have been active in
the eld for a number of years. It draws heavily upon the published literature, as well as our own professional
experience. This includes ongoing laboratory work to produce cultured meat and over seventy interviews with
experts in the area conducted in the social science work.
Key ndings and conclusions: Cultured meat is a promising, but early stage, technology with key technical
challenges including cell source, culture media, mimicking the in-vivo myogenesis environment, animal-derived
and synthetic materials, and bioprocessing for commercial-scale production. Analysis of the social context has
too readily been reduced to ethics and consumer acceptance, and whilst these are key issues, the importance of
the political and institutional forms a cultured meat industry might take must also be recognised, and how
ambiguities shape any emergent regulatory system.
1. Introduction
Cultured meat involves applying the practices of tissue engineering
to the production of muscle for consumption as food. Sometimes also
known as clean meat or in vitro meat, it is an emergent technology that
operates as part of the wider eld of cellular agriculture and in a re-
lation of competition and collaboration with innovation in plant-based
proteins. This paper contributes to a growing number of review papers
about cultured meat (Arshad et al., 2017;Datar & Betti, 2010;Kadim,
Mahgoub, Baqir, Faye, & Purchas, 2015;Post, 2012). What is distinct
about this paper is a willingness to engage in articulating the practical
challenges facing the eld and the call for extending the socio-political
debate on cultured meat beyond ethicsand consumer acceptanceto
include complex policy issues like food transitions and practical reg-
ulatory mechanisms. Subsequently this paper focuses upon a detailed
account of cultured meat. While we recognise the value of conducting a
direct comparison between cultured and traditional meat systems or
other innovative approaches, such comparative work is beyond the
scope of this paper and we direct readers to other contributions for this
work (Alexander et al., 2017;Bonny et al., 2015).
While the paper is of international relevance, as the issues described
are applicable in all territories, we base our more grounded and de-
tailed discussion on the policy context of pre-Brexit UK as this is the
locality we understand best. Our analysis derives from a diverse set of
collective experiences as participants and analysts of the cultured meat
and livestock meat contexts, and is supported by over seventy expert
interviews with participants active in cellular agriculture and other
alternative protein developments over a ve-year period. Interviewees
include professionals engaged in producing cultured meat and other
cellular agriculture products within both universities and in companies,
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tifs.2018.04.010
Received 2 June 2017; Received in revised form 24 April 2018; Accepted 25 April 2018
Corresponding author.
1
All authors contributed equally.
E-mail address: neil.stephens@brunel.ac.uk (N. Stephens).
Trends in Food Science & Technology 78 (2018) 155–166
Available online 27 April 2018
0924-2244/ © 2018 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/BY/4.0/).
T
funders of this work, and complimentary interviews with professionals
working in plant-based meat substitutes and edible insects.
The global livestock industry has come under increasing scrutiny in
recent years due to the scale of its environmental, ethical, and human
health impacts (Scollan et al., 2011). These concerns, coupled with
projections that demand for protein products will continue to rise over
the coming decades (Gerber et al., 2013), means there is an urgent need
for methods of protein production that are more sustainable, nutritious
and animal welfare-conscious. Protein analogues (non-animal proteins)
already go some way towards achieving this; however, the desire to eat
meat and animal-derived foods has led to the emergence of cellular
agriculture, which aims to produce animal proteins using fewer animals
and less animal-derived material than the current livestock industry, by
utilising culturing techniques. This approach aims to marry a consumer
desire to eat meat with the drive to ensure global food security, a nu-
tritious diet, and reduce the environmental burden of food production.
Research has shown a rise in UK consumers incorporating more
vegetarian and vegan choices into their diets (Caldwell, 2015). Informa
Agribusiness Intelligence estimates that by 2021 UK sales of meat
analogues will grow by 25% and milk alternatives by 43%; such growth
will take the total UK sales of milk alternatives from £149 million (US
$208 million) to £299 million (US$400 million) (FoodBevMedia, 2017).
Signicant growth is also expected at the global scale, with a recent
estimate predicting the global protein analogue market to be worth $46
billion (GBP£33 billion) by 2020 (Business Wire, 2018). Globally, it is
projected that the protein analogue market will generate £5.2 billion in
revenue by 2020 (Allied Market Research, 2014). Yet despite projec-
tions of market and cultural shifts appearing to favour protein in-
novation, there is a critical need to examine cultured meat within the
contexts of existing food policy and the existing material landscape of
food production. If the associated technical and consumer-perception
challenges that have been identied in other literature, and to which
this document speaks to in later sections, can be overcome there is real
potential for these technologies to instigate considerable material and
regulatory changes to local, national and international food systems.
Understanding what these changes are and what consequences both
positive and negative they may bring is, we argue, an important task
to conduct while these technologies remain relatively nascent in their
development.
In seeking to address these issues, this article (i) provides an over-
view of the state-of-the-art of cultured meat technology, (ii) situates it
among broader innovations in cellular agriculture, (iii) discusses the
potential benets of cultured meat, (iv) details the technical challenges
faced, and (v) identies key consumer, political and regulatory aspects
of cultured meat. These last two sections on technical and social issues
also articulate some of the challenges, weaknesses, and concerns about
cultured meat technology.
2. Cultured meat and cellular agriculture
2.1. Cultured meat
In the early 2000s, two projects were conducted to produce cultured
tissue for food purposes: one by a NASA-funded college-based group
(Benjaminson, Gilchriest, & Lorenz, 2002), and another by a team of
bio-artists in the Tissue Culture and Art Project (Catts & Zurr, 2010).
Both projects produced small quantities of tissue, with the NASA group
performing sni-tests to assess palatability, and the bio-arts team con-
ducting taste-tests as part of an arts performance piece. In 2005 the
Dutch government funded the rst of two three-year research projects
in the area based upon PhD studentships that sought to culture porcine
adult and embryonic stem cells (du Puy, 2010;Wilschut, Jaksani, Van
Den Dolder, Haagsman, & Roelen, 2008), develop an algae-based cul-
turing medium (Tuomisto & de Mattos, 2011), and use electronic and
chemical stimuli to induce mouse muscle cell growth (Langelaan et al.,
2011). From this Dutch work came the eld's most high-prole moment
when Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University secured nancial
support from Google co-founder Sergey Brin to produce the world's rst
cultured beef burger, which was cooked and eaten in a London press
conference in August 2013 (O'Riordan, Fotopoulou and Stephens, 2016;
Post, 2014). Over the last ve years a number of small companies have
emerged - some with their own prototypes - although none have yet
surpassed the visibility of the 2013 cultured burger.
The technology involves expanding stem cells then dierentiating
them into muscle cells. This is typically done using chemical/biological
cues in the cell culture media (Langelaan et al., 2011) and mechanical
stimulation. However, in the eld of tissue engineering there is evi-
dence that physical material properties can be used instead, or as well,
and we expect developments in scaolds to be a necessary part of
cultured meat research.
Much of the most advanced work in the eld is conducted within
start-up companies that can be selective in which information about
their process they make publically available, and, subsequently, it can
be dicult to know exactly what each company is doing. Given this,
here we provide an account of current activity to the best of our
knowledge. One leading team is Mark Post's Maastricht group that
produced the world's rst cultured burger with primary bovine skeletal
muscle cells, and links Maastricht University and spin-ocompany
Mosa Meats. Another is US-based start-up company Memphis Meats
who have produced demonstration cultured products in the form of a
meatball, beef fajita, chicken and duck. During 2017, vegan mayon-
naise company Just (formally Hampton Creek) announced they would
have a cultured meat product on the market during 2018, and have
released promotional video footage of cultured chicken nuggets (Just,
2017). In Israel the company Super Meatshas been operating in
connection with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for several years,
and recent news reporting suggests three Israeli cultured meat com-
panies - SuperMeat, Future Meat Technologies, and Meat the Future
will benet from the $300 million trade deal signed between China and
Israel (Roberts, 2017). While this deal has been reported in the press, it
is not yet clear publically exactly what this will mean for these com-
panies, and none have yet publically revealed any demonstration pro-
ducts. US-based start-up Modern Meadow also produced demonstration
steak chips- dehydrated, edible, high-protein food products formed of
cultured muscle cells that were combined with a hydrogel (Modern
Meadow et al., 2015)although the company currently focuses upon
cultured leather. Another more recently established US start-up, Finless
Foods, is working on cultured sh, although they describe their work as
early stage. There are a number of small and early stage start-ups, some
of which do not at the time of writing have a website, that are known to
have entered the eld, and some of which have already left. There are
also a number of University laboratories with an interest in the eld, for
example third sector cultured meat advocacy group New Harvest have
funded Research Fellows at the University of Bath, University of Ot-
tawa, Tufts University, and North Carolina State University.
While we can provide short accounts of the history and technolo-
gical approach of cultured meat, it remains a challenge to provide a
denitive account of what it is. This is because, as a profoundly novel
product and radically dierent way to produce meat compared to ex-
isting livestock methods, its status as a well-dened and widely ac-
cepted entity remains contested. In 2010 Stephens argued cultured
meat (then called in vitro meat) was best described as an as-yet un-
dened ontological object, to capture the way in which this new type
of thing, with little in the way of history or precedent, had entered our
world to disrupt and sit uncomfortably within the existing ways we
categorise and understand what meat is (see also Stephens, 2013). Little
framework existed to make sense of this new type of tissue presented as
meat outside of science ction narratives (McHugh, 2010), and many
did not know how to rationalise it. As part of the promotional work of
the 2013 cultured burger event one denition of cultured meat was
given some visibility. In this denition cultured meat is meat as we
know it, an identical product just produced not in a cow(Post, 2013),
N. Stephens et al. Trends in Food Science & Technology 78 (2018) 155–166
156
and it is to be consumed by people who like meat but are concerned
about the environmental and animal welfare impacts of livestock pro-
duction methods. While this clearly did bring a framework of under-
standing to cultured meat, it was still a framework that could be con-
tested by some (Laestadius & Caldwell, 2015;Laestadius, 2015;
O'Riordan, Fotopoulou & Stephens, 2016), and remains unknown to
others.
One alternative denition is provided by Hocquette (2016), who
argues cultured meat is most accurately described as articial muscle
proteins(p169) because meatimplies maturation inside an animal
and the process of slaughter. Another view would dene cultured meat
not as a nal meat product, but as an ingredient that a meat producer
could work into a nal meat product. Potentially this could be mixed
with other ingredients, including plant-based or traditional animal-
based meat ingredients. Alternatively, if potential consumers express
what has been termed the yuckresponse, cultured meat could be re-
cognised as simply not t for consideration as food at all (Van der Weele
& Driessen, 2013). The key point at this stage is not to think we can
know the ultimate, future denition of cultured meat at this point in
time, but to recognise that as a highly novel and distinct artefact the
exact status of what it is remains ambiguous, contested, and political,
and may continue to be for some time.
This contestation extends to what it should be called, even within
the community of people working to produce and support the tech-
nology. The early work in the decade following the millennium mostly
used the term in vitromeat. Around 2011 the term cultured meat be-
came used more as the word 'cultured' captured cell culturing techni-
ques, emphasised similarities to fermentation processes such as beer
and cheese, and had an appealing resonance as artful and creative
(Datar, 2016;Kramer, 2016;Stephens & Lewis, 2017). Since 2015 some
within the eld, most notably the third-sector group the Good Food
Institute, have been advocating the term clean meat, primarily because
it is believed to be more appealing to consumers and focuses attention
on why it is cleanas opposed to why it is cultured, which is thought
to have a more positive implication (Friedrich, 2016). Notably, all three
names retain meat, even though it would be imaginable to have a
dierent name, for example Hocquette's (2016) focus upon muscle
protein. Of course, outside of the community, there have been a number
of derogatory terms used in public debate, including lab meat, synthetic
meat, and Frankenstein meat. Terminology is important in framing how
things are understood, and this contestation over what it is called re-
ects both the ambiguity over what it is, and the political sensitivities of
how dierent groups want it to be positioned.
2.2. Cellular agriculture
Cellular agriculture encompasses a set of technologies to manu-
facture products typically obtained from livestock farming, using cul-
turing techniques to manufacture the individual product. There is still
debate as to exactly how cellular agriculture should be dened, and
which (proposed) products t within or beyond this denition.
However, within the community associated with cellular agriculture
there is some agreement that it can be divided into two types that here
we term tissue engineering-based and fermentation-based cellular
agriculture, grouped by the production method used.
Tissue engineering-based cellular agriculture includes cultured meat
and leather systems in which cells or cell lines taken from living ani-
mals are tissue engineered in an eort to produce useable tissue with
minimal quantities of animal tissue input compared to livestock
methods in which the cells themselves form the product. Starting ma-
terial, i.e. the cells, can be taken from an animal using a biopsy pro-
cedure (Post, 2014), or a genetically-modied cell line could be pro-
duced that only requires animals from which to source the original cells
(Genovese, Domeier, Prakash, Telugu, & Roberts, 2017). Modern
Meadow's early leather work also used a tissue engineering approach.
Fermentation-based cellular agriculture contrasts to tissue
engineering-based systems in that it does not use any tissue from a
living animal. Instead products are manufactured by fermentation using
bacteria, algae or yeast that have typically been genetically modied,
by adding recombinant DNA, so they produce organic molecules. These
molecules can be used to biofabricate familiar animal products (e.g.
gelatine, casein (used for milk), and collagen (used for leather)).
Fermentation-based cellular agriculture draws upon commonplace in-
dustrial biotechnology and therefore may result in marketable products
in a shorter timeframe compared to tissue engineering cellular agri-
culture that relies on technology that has not been proven at large
scales. Modern Meadow, who were the rst to produce steak chips, now
primarily focus upon leather and have shifted away from a tissue en-
gineering approach towards a fermentation-based system in which an
undisclosed cell type is genetically instructed to produce a specic type
of collagen for manipulation into leather. Other examples include start-
ups Clara Foods (egg white), Pembient (rhinoceros horn), and Perfect
Day - previously Muufri (milk).
Datar, Kim, and dOrigny (2016) note an equivalent distinction
within the eld but based on the cellular content of the product. Their
preferred terminology is cellular agriculture productsfor what we
term tissue engineering-based cellular agricultureand acellular agri-
culture productsfor what we term fermentation based-cellular agri-
culture. In their account cellular agriculture products are made of
living or once-living cellswhile acellular agricultural products con-
tain no cellular or living material(p128). Here we depart from Datar,
Kim and dOrigny's nomenclature because the term acellular suggests a
lack of cells which obfuscates the roles of the microbes that are them-
selves single-cell organisms. Their usage also suggests both cellular and
acellular products are subsets of cellular agriculture, which, while po-
tentially accurate, is a confusing mode to describe the distinction made.
A key feature of both forms of cellular agriculture products is the
aspiration to produce what we term biologically equivalentproducts
to the livestock versions. This can extend to targeting molecularly and
genetically identical material that delivers viscerally equivalent eating
or usage experiences. It is the goal of biological equivalence that se-
parates cellular agriculture from a new wave of plant-based protein
analogue projects including Beyond Meat and Just's egg-like products
that also seek viscerally equivalentexperiences but absolutely avoid
biological equivalence. Processed cultured meat products, such as the
demonstration products produced by Memphis Meats, aspire to biolo-
gical equivalence.
For the remainder of this paper we focus upon cultured meat.
3. Potential benets of cultured meat
The benets of a cultured meat system are articulated more fully in
other review articles such as Datar and Betti (2010),Kadim et al.
(2015), and Post (2012). Here we summarise the key themes, before
addressing the challenges and opportunities of realising these more
fully across the rest of the paper, although importantly we note our
account includes greater emphasis on potential farming perspectives
about the benets than these other published accounts.
Cultured meat could deliver reduced water use, greenhouse gas
emissions, eutrophication potential, and land use compared to con-
ventional livestock meat production. This potential has been assessed in
a number of Life Cycle Assessments, although all are based upon hy-
pothetical models of what form cultured meat production might take.
Tuomisto et al. (2011) compared cultured meat to conventionally
produced beef, sheep, pork and poultry, nding it involves approxi-
mately 7896% less greenhouse gas emissions, 99% less land use,
8296% less water use, and 745% less energy use, depending upon
what meat product is it compared to (although poultry uses less en-
ergy). Mattick, Landis, Allenby, and Genovese (2015) produced a
second comparative study using a dierent model for cultured meat
production, with the most notable dierences being the media pro-
duction method used and inclusion of a cleaning phase. These results
N. Stephens et al. Trends in Food Science & Technology 78 (2018) 155–166
157
suggest cultured meat could involve some trade-os, with signicant
energy use leading to cultured meat having greater global warming
potential than pork or poultry, but lower than beef, while retaining
signicant gains in land use. Using a dierent eld of comparison,
Smetana, Mathys, Knoch, and Heinz (2015) conducted a cradle-to-plate
assessment to compare cultured meat to a range of meat alternatives
plant-based, mycoprotein-based, and dairy-based - and chicken, as the
least environmentally problematic conventional meat. Across a set of
environmental categories they found that cultured meat had the highest
impact, mostly due to its high energy level requirements, with the only
exceptions being land use and terrestrial and freshwater ecotoxicity.
The overall picture is that cultured meat could have less environmental
impact than beef, and possibly pork, but more than chicken and plant-
based proteins. However, all three Life Cycle Assessments note that
cultured meat technology has signicant scope for innovation that
could reduce the energy requirements below those used in these as-
sessments, and subsequently could deliver better environmental out-
comes than these models predict.
Another potential benet is that cultured meat could be less prone
to biological risk and disease through standardised production
methods, and through tailored production could contribute to improved
nutrition, health and wellbeing (Post, 2012). However there are some
areas to address around genetic instability of multiple cell divisions
(Hocquette, 2016) and the media components (Dilworth & McGregor,
2015); while the latter will not be consumed, a full analysis of trace-
ability of components would ensure transparency of the science. Fur-
thermore, being less reliant on climate, land quality and area (FAO,
2013) it has also been proposed that cultured meat could enable more
of the global population to have consistent access to protein, although
we return to the politics of access later in the paper.
Cultured meat aims to use considerably fewer animals than con-
ventional agriculture. From an animal protection perspective this could
appeal to vegans, vegetarians and to those conscientious omnivores
interested in reducing their meat intake on ethical grounds (Hopkins &
Dacey, 2008).
While the precise economic value of harvested cells has yet to be
determined, the potential to harvest large numbers of cells from a small
number of donor animals gives rise to the possibility of considerably
higher returns per animal than traditional agriculture. This level of
protability could provide a credible alternative to intensive farming
systems such as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO).
Cultured meat could also provide new opportunities within tradi-
tional agriculture for those utilising traditional native breeds of live-
stock. The move from carcass to cell harvesting could see a shift change
away from the genomic and phenotypic selection of high yielding,
hybridised breeds of livestock to the utilisation of more traditional li-
vestock who can thrive on low density, low input, extensive systems.
The benets are three-fold: these low impact systems have a much
lower environmental impact, have the potential to be highly protable,
and could potentially contribute to the retention of the genetics of
traditional breeds and will safeguard their biodiversity.
When considering food waste, traditional carcass utilisation within
the commercial meat industry is the single biggest problem in the
context of waste management. Cultured meat provides a new oppor-
tunity, whereby the prime cut alone is produced for consumption or
processing rather than the whole carcass.
There is also opportunity for each producer to create their own
version of the product (much like craft brewers, farmhouse cheese-
makers and charcuterie producers now), therefore giving them diversity
and competitiveness in the market, as well as engaging in higher skilled
jobs in a new knowledge economy. If developed in such a way as to
support it, the combination of traditional agriculture and new tech-
nologies will enable a circular economy as the majority of waste pro-
ducts (heat, metabolites) from cultured meat production can be up-
graded for use on a farm or sold. There is also the opportunity to
establish a true cost accounting structure to realise both the nancial
and environmental impact of the production of food through cellular
agriculture.
4. Technical challenges of producing cultured meat
The challenge of producing cultured meat is to replicate the muscle-
growing environment found in a cow or other animal and recapitulate it
in the laboratory or factory. Muscle development has evolved over
millions of years and as such it is an ecient process perfectly suited to
occurring in the body as part of a vast array of other functions. Tissue
engineering of muscle, as for any tissue, combines biological under-
standing of tissue development and growth, with biochemical en-
gineering principles to replicate the in-vivo environment. To date,
tissue engineering has largely been focused on medical applications
such as regenerative medicine, and non-animal technologies for in-vitro
models used for drug discovery and toxicology. The technical principles
are the same for producing cultured meat, but for meat the scale is
much larger and the product must be aordable as a commodity. This
noted, cultured meat is a food rather than a medical product so the
regulatory requirements need not be so stringent, and the grade (purity)
of raw materials may not need to be as high as biomedical applications.
4.1. Meat, muscle and in-vitro myocyte culture
To understand the technical challenges, denitions of meat, muscle
biology, and in-vitro culture of muscle cells need to be considered. The
European Union legislative denition of meat is skeletal muscle with
naturally included or adherent fat and connective tissue(European
Parliament, 2003). Structurally, meat is an exsanguinated and dehy-
drated product of the musculoskeletal system that can be formed of a
number of tissues including skeletal muscle, bone, connective tissues,
blood vessels and nerves. It is predominantly skeletal muscle which is
bound to bone via tendons and connected to each other via a network of
connective tissues of varying compositions but predominantly com-
posed of collagen (Gillies & Lieber, 2011). There are three processes by
which skeletal muscle is formed: embryonic myogenesis, adult skeletal
myogenesis and muscle regeneration after trauma (Grefte, Kuijpers-
Jagtman, Torensma, & Von Der Ho, 2007). In-vitro skeletal muscle
tissue engineering aims to mimic regeneration of muscle after trauma
and/or embryonic myogenesis. Although cell type and maturation
pathways may dier, the end goal is to obtain a terminally dier-
entiated cell capable of proliferating and dierentiating into muscle
bres.
Generating muscle begins during embryogenesis where the rst
muscle bres are formed from mesoderm derived structures. Muscle-
resident myogenic progenitor cells then proliferate and continue until a
steady state is reached (Bentzinger, Wang, & Rudnicki, 2012). Once the
muscle has matured these muscle cells enter a quiescent state and lie
between the basal lamina and sarcolema of myobres (Zammit,
Partridge, & Yablonka-Reuveni, 2006). They are known as muscle stem
cells (satellite cells) which mature into myocytes, the building blocks of
new adult muscle. Upon trauma, muscle repair and regeneration hap-
pens in three stages: inammatory response; activation, proliferation,
dierentiation and fusion of satellite cells; and the maturation and re-
modelling of new myobres (Yin, Price, & Rudnicki, 2013). These
stages are not mutually exclusive and coincide. The aim of in-vitro
culture is to mimic the in-vivo environmental niche in order to create
skeletal muscle comparable to native tissue, which would aim to re-
plicate either the embryogenesis or regeneration pathway depending on
the starting cell source. Typically, tissue engineering for cultured meat
focuses on growing myogenic musclecells (myocytes) alone via the
regenerative pathway, as these are the main constituent of meat.
However, to achieve muscle tissue that has the potential to fully re-
plicate meat, multiple cell types are required. Here, we focus on myo-
cytes, as these have been considered frequently in the context of cul-
tured meat. The majority of skeletal muscle analysis has been carried
N. Stephens et al. Trends in Food Science & Technology 78 (2018) 155–166
158
out in 2D experiments using cell lines (Burattini, 2004). However, 3D
structures (bioarticial muscle) are being investigated in regenerative
medicine and as an alternative in-vitro model, as a better representation
of native skeletal muscle tissue (Snyman, Goetsch, Myburgh, & Niesler,
2013). For cultured meat, thin 3D cultures can be utilised to form
processed meats (burgers, sausages) whereas carcase meats would need
the optimisation of thicker 3D structures with a nutrient and oxygen
supply and waste removal to sustain the inner core of cells.
4.2. Tissue engineering of muscle for consumption as cultured meat
The extent to which the biology of muscle is replicated will de-
termine the complexity of the tissue engineering process. A like-for-like
piece of muscle (e.g. steak) is the long-term goal. This requires a
complex system containing multiple cell types growing in an organised
manner, and a structure that will need a replicated blood vessel net-
work. A more simplistic and near-future goal is producing a muscle
protein ingredient based on muscle cells alone. Despite these longer
term dierences, many of the challenges at this point in time are the
same for both, and are outlined below.
4.2.1. Cell source
It is currently widely debated as to how best to source the cells.
There are two possible cell sources to form tissue engineered cellular
agriculture products: primary cells isolated from the original tissue, or
cell lines. Cell lines can be formed two ways. One method is typically
via induction (genetic engineering or chemical), which can program the
cells to proliferate indenitely (Eva et al., 2014). Another is to select
spontaneous mutations where the cell expresses immortality and cul-
ture the resulting population (ThermoFisher, 2017). These im-
mortalised cells could decrease the dependency on fresh tissue samples
and increase the speed of proliferation and dierentiation. However,
sub-culturing, passaging, misidentication, and continuous evolution
are just some of the problems that can occur using cell lines (National
Institutes of Health 2007). Furthermore, it has been argued that these
cells are not always representative of the primary cell, they may show
dierent growth rates for example, hence cell data should be inter-
preted with caution. The conversion of somatic cells into induced
pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) are another option, and while this is re-
latively new technology, promising developments are being made
(Genovese et al., 2017;Wu & Hochedlinger, 2011).
The other option is harvesting primary cells found in native tissue,
perhaps from a small herd of animals on an intermittent basis, and
culturing them. Muscle stem cells (satellite cells) are the most re-
searched source, but other multipotent cells such as mesenchymal stem
cells are being studied due to their higher proliferation capacity (Stern-
Straeter, 2014) and ability to be expanded using serum-free media
(Chase, Lakshmipathy, Solchaga, Rao, & Vemuri, 2010;Jung,
Panchalingam, Rosenberg, & Behie, 2012;Oikonomopoulos et al.,
2015). Embryonic stem cells, which proliferate indenitely, are an al-
ternative, however, directing towards a muscle cell lineage is more
dicult. There are also human primary cell sources available for re-
search (CookMyoSite, 2016), but these also only give a representation
of the myogenic characteristics of a specic species (Sultan &
Haagsman, 2001), and for this particular source, the culture of human
tissue for meat would have enormous ethical, health, and regulatory
implications. Challenges of using primary cells include isolation of the
desired cell type from the harvest tissue, both with regard to homo-
geneity and cell numbers; this can be technically challenging, costly
and often result in insucient numbers of cells for any meaningful data
to be acquired. Furthermore, inter-sample variability will impact
growth behaviour and response to the culture environment. There is
still much debate as to the optimal cells to use in terms of animal type,
breed, and tissue from which the cells are taken.
4.2.2. Culture media
The culture media used for both stages of skeletal muscle develop-
ment is usually supplemented with 10%20% of growth media (Bian &
Bursac, 2009,Hinds, Bian, Dennis, & Bursac, 2011,Mudera, Smith,
Brady, & Lewis, 2010,Fujita, Endo, Shimizu, & Nagamori, 2010,Smith,
Passey, Greensmith, Mudera, & Lewis, 2012). Foetal calf serum or horse
serum is added between the range 0.52% at the dierentiation stage
(Burattini, 2004;Chiron et al., 2012). Chicken embryo extract is also
used as an addition to some cultures. Optimisation of the culture media
is highly dependent on the cell species origin (Burton, Vierck,
Krabbenhoft, Bryne, & Dodson, 2000). In addition, it is common prac-
tice to add antibiotic or antibiotic/antimitotics to cells in cultures to
prevent infection particularly for long-term cultures.
Serum contains a wide range of growth factors, hormones, vitamins,
amino acids, fatty acids, trace elements and extracellular vesicles re-
quired for cell growth (Aswad, Jalabert, & Rome, 2016;Brunner et al.,
2010). There have been studies utilising serum-free media through the
addition of supplementary proteins (Shiozuka & Kimura, 2000) or new
branded media such as AIM-V (Fujita et al., 2010), Sericin and Ultroser-
G(Fujita et al., 2010;Portiér, Benders, Oosterhof, Veerkamp, & van
Kuppevelt, 1999), with promising results. For example, AIM-V has
shown increased active tension over serum media during the dier-
entiation stage. Further studies must be conducted to remove serum
from the whole culturing process to reduce dependency on animal
products. Standard cell culture media contains inorganic and organic
components including carbohydrates, amino acids and vitamins re-
quired to maintain cell viability in the cultured cell population (Arora,
2013). However, if commercial media are to be used in a product, a Life
Cycle Assessment must be conducted for the purposes of cellular agri-
culture, although this is complicated because in most cases the pro-
prietary nature of commercial media means the source, extraction
method and processing of components remains unknown.
4.2.3. Mimicking the in-vivo myogenesis environment
The building blocks of muscle are adherent cells which are im-
mobile and embedded within the tissue. To mimic the natural en-
vironment and 3D structure, a scaold is required with appropriate
characteristics to allow cell adhesion and subsequent proliferation and
tissue development. An alternative is to develop a cell line that is non-
adherent, and is one which would greatly reduce cost and the carbon
footprint of the cultured meat production process; however, this is in
very early stages of development and will not be covered here. Scaolds
for muscle tissue engineering have been extensively described in the
literature (Chan & Leong, 2008;Sakar et al., 2012;Vandenburgh,
Karlisch & Farr, 1988). However, it should be noted that successful
scaolds for 3D skeletal muscle formation are all currently animal-de-
rived due to factors such as cell adhesion, bre alignment and com-
parability to an in-vivo environment (Bian et al., 2009). The additional
consideration is whether the scaold should be part of the product and
therefore edible and degrade during the culture process to leave just
the cultured meat; or, whether the cells are removed from the scaold
so it can be reused to save material. Cost is also important and it is
expected that new scaolds will continue to be developed for as long as
cultured meat products are themselves developed and re-developed.
These systems all present their own array of challenges for tissue
engineering-based cellular agriculture. There are numerous considera-
tions, for example, the use of medical grade collagen, brin, thrombin
or other animal derivatives to produce hydrogels, to mimic the natural
tissue. We must also consider the hydrogel constituents being dierent
in composition from the native muscle extracellular matrix; the in-
tricate nature of anchor points causing replication and scalability is-
sues; gel contraction causing cell congregation at the edges of the gel
along lines of tension, more so than in the core of the formed bre
(Chen, Nakamoto, Kawazoe, & Chen, 2015); inconsistency in mature
bre production and alignment; limitation in tissue thickness; and, solid
scaold degradation rate, uncoupling from or edibility in the muscle
N. Stephens et al. Trends in Food Science & Technology 78 (2018) 155–166
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tissue created. Both proliferation of cells and dierentiation to specic
cell type and tissue must be optimised and scaled. In the case of myo-
genic cell cultivation inadequate research has been conducted, in par-
ticular in relation to dierentiation.
To date, the only successful muscle tissue constructs have been a
few hundred microns in thickness, which is acceptable for minced but
not whole muscle cuts (Lovett, Lee, Edwards, & Kaplan, 2009). Cell
sheets are being explored for thicker tissue construction (Hinds,
Tyhovych , Sistrunk & Terracio, 2013), however, for highly structured
and organised tissues the engineering of highly perfused scaolds
would be required. Investigations have turned to forming channels
within the tissue, and there has been specic research into 3D struc-
tured tissue formation using channelled networks made from sacricial
scaolds (Mohanty et al., 2015), removable structures and lithography
(Muehleder, Ovsianikov, Zipperle, Redl, & Holnthoner, 2014), whereby
ow could be perfused throughout the tissue. 3D-printing seems a
promising concept in creating these channelled networks, with ex-
amples including cultured leather purveyors Modern Meadow patenting
a method and device for scalable extrusion of cultured cells for use in
forming three-dimensional tissue structures, and Harvard researchers
3D-printing a perfusion network that was able to sustain a culture for
six weeks (Kolesky, Homan, Skylar-Scott, & Lewis, 2016).
4.2.4. Use of animal-derived and synthetic materials for the scaold and
media
In most cases, both the synthetic scaolds and culture media used
could contain animal-derived products. Cells, not surprisingly, grow
best on materials found in the body such as collagen, which is com-
monly used in cell culture systems as a substrate. Cell culture protocols
often utilise other compounds found in the body such as growth factors
and blood serum added to cell culture media. In medical research blood
serum is typically foetal calf serum, although other animals, and more
mature animals can be used. It is possible, but somewhat more dicult
to grow cells under serum-free conditions or using serum replacements;
however, this is itself an area of research that is yet to produce a
comparable and aordable alternative (Butler, 2015). As with some
foods for humans and animals, culture media contains components
synthesised in yeast and bacteria, as well as crops. Yeast and bacterial
production of ingredients is in fact synergistic with cultured meat
production and could itself be classed as cellular agriculture, however,
the use of crude oil derivatives to produce components is not sustain-
able in the longer-term. Muscle cell culture media are expensive, in fact
prohibitive on the large scale, therefore, the manufacture of a sustain-
able, animal-free, aordable media is a major challenge. The same
challenge applies to scaold manufacture. There are a number of an-
imal and non-animal derived biomaterials that have been utilised in
tissue engineering. Myogenic cells prefer to reside in animal-derived
materials as would be expected as these materials more closely mimic
their natural physiological niche. The majority of successful bio-arti-
cial muscle has been grown on scaolds made from collagen (Snyman
et al., 2013) and to date achieving tissue contraction with synthetic
biomaterials has proven problematic (Bian & Bursac, 2009). Further
research needs to be conducted on non-animal derived or food-grade
animal product biomaterials for the formation components of meat (e.g.
muscle, fat, blood vessels).
4.2.5. Bioprocessing
Aordable production of cultured meat with a low carbon footprint
and minimal waste can theoretically be achieved, however, the scale
required for making cultured meat a commodity will be the largest ever
for tissue engineering. Precedents can be taken from other bioproces-
sing such as the fungus-derived mycoprotein foodstuQuorn (Wiebe
et al., 2002), and the large-scale culturing of Chinese Hamster Ovary
cells (CHO cells) for pharmaceutical manufacturing applications (Xing,
Kenty, Li, & Lee, 2009); however, the complex environment needed and
the architecture of muscle introduces new challenges. The bioprocess
itself can be considered in four parts: the cell expansion; the cell dif-
ferentiation; the product manufacture; and the waste valorisation.
There are then the raw materials and waste products, plus logistics,
factory siting, and other associated infrastructure, and the associated
Life Cycle Assessment which is essential to understand the carbon
footprint of the process. As just alluded to, the dierence between
cultured meat bioprocessing and the established bioprocesses is the
complexity of the environment for both proliferation and dierentia-
tion of muscle cells. Mesenchymal stem cell expansion is relatively well
established at bench scale readyfor clinical scale (since the vast ma-
jority of tissue engineering to date focuses on cell therapies). Publica-
tions demonstrate expansion in bioreactors up to 5 litres, but with
current commercially-available technologies there is potential for
bioreactors up to 2000 litres (Schnitzler et al., 2016). To put into
context the scale of cultured meat production, in the region of
8×10
12
cells are required to acquire 1 kg of protein from muscle cells,
which would need a traditionalstirred tank bioreactor in the order of
5000 litres. While this volume is commonplace in established biopro-
cessing it is as yet unproven in tissue engineering and mesenchymal
stem cell expansion. Other bioreactor congurations are available that
can, in theory, achieve higher cell densities, including uidised bed
bioreactors and hollow bre membrane bioreactors, but are con-
siderably less established for cell expansion at this point in time. The
scale-up (in a few large bioreactors) or the scale-out (in many smaller
bioreactors) are key challenges here. The expansion challenge at this
scale is likely to be more easily overcome than the dierentiation, in the
authors' opinion. The achievement of muscle cell dierentiation has
been reported for in-vitro models (Sharples et al., 2012;Smith et al.,
2012) and for Post's rst burger (Post, 2014), all of which use scale-out
methods but only produced a single piece of tissue-engineered model.
The case for this scale-out approach is achievable but highly labour
intensive and costly, so establishing a scaold and bioreactor conditions
that enable dierentiation in larger bioreactors is the major challenge
to make cultured meat a commodity.
5. Consumer, political and regulatory aspects of cultured meat
5.1. Ethical and consumer perspectives on cultured meat
So far the dominant framings of the social issues related to cultured
meat have been ethics and consumer acceptance (see, for example
Hocquette, 2015i and the special issue it introduces). These remain
important issues that require sustained attention. However, we argue
that these alone are insuciently broad to facilitate the necessary
consideration of the politics of cultured meat that will allow both the
maximisation of potential social benet, and the fullest articulation of
legitimate concerns and hurdles about the technology. In the sub-
sequent section we begin the work of broadening the analytical scope,
but rst we briey review key themes in the existing ethics and con-
sumer response/acceptance literature.
5.1.1. Cultured meat ethics
The academic ethics literature generally reports supportive argu-
ments for cultured meat, especially when adopting a philosophically-
orientated approach (Dilworth & McGregor, 2015). These accounts are
typically based upon the environmental and animal welfare benets of
a successful cultured meat system. Armaza-Armaza and Armaza-Galdos
argue developing cultured meat would be a moral duty(2010, p518)
while Hopkins and Dacey suggest it might be our moral obligation
(2008 p579). Supportive but less emphatic is Pluhar (2010) who argues
that from both utilitarian and rights-based viewpoints we should sup-
port cultured meat, although vegetarianism may be a superior moral
response. Schaefer and Savulescu (2014) argue cultured meat devel-
opment is permissible and worth promoting, especially from vegetarian
perspectives. Chauvet (2018) argues animal dignity is not violated by
producing cultured meat, and Van der Weele (2010) suggests we should
N. Stephens et al. Trends in Food Science & Technology 78 (2018) 155–166
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invest in cultured meat to at least see if the benets can be realised,
although she notes they may not.
This given, a minority of writers using dierent perspectives adopt
negative positions. Cole and Morgan (2013) argue from a critical an-
imal studies perspective that cultured meat continues the existing fe-
tishisation of meat, and due to its expense could result in a non-meat
eating elite who operate guilt free at the expense of the less well-o.
Weisberg writes with the critical theory of Marcuse and Ellul that [u]
ltimately, looking to biotechnology to solve ethical crises is fraught
with danger and should be avoided(2015, p52), a position close to
Metcalf's (2013) argument that cultured meat is a dangerous example of
the decontextualisation and molecularisation of sustainability, and Lee's
(2018) ecofeminist perspective of caution towards the emancipatory
potential.
5.1.2. Consumer acceptance and public perception studies
A second important area of study has been the opinions of various
publics about cultured meat. Sometimes those in the eld reduce this to
the issue of consumer acceptance, although we urge the need for a
wider framing of this issue beyond likely purchasing decisions to also
include broader personal and political convictions, uncertainties, and
ambivalences about the societal impact of cultured meat. Importantly
this should inform innovation pathways in a form of upstream en-
gagementthat embeds critical reection upon novel technologies into
their development (Wilsdon & Willis, 2004). Existing studies on per-
ceptions of cultured meat vary in methodology but demonstrate some
commonality in nding diverse opinions from the very supportive to
the very negative, with many shades of uncertainty in between. Studies
of social media and comments on news articles about cultured meat
nd the perceived unnaturalness of cultured meat can be a problem
(Laestadius, 2015;Laestadius & Caldwell, 2015), noting social media
can be a key site of resistance (O'Riordan et al., 2015) (there have also
been studies of the media reporting itself, with Goodwin and Shoulders
(2013) arguing coverage disproportionately draws upon cultured meat
proponents, while Hopkins (2015) argues the media over-represents the
importance of vegetarian and vegan viewpoints). The diversity of
public opinions on cultured meat was also found in a survey of 1890
scientists and students that used multiple correspondence analysis to
identify three clear clusters of respondees: those in favour, those
against, and those of no opinion (Hocquette, 2015ii). Another online
survey of 673 participants based in the US reported this ambiguity in a
dierent way, noting that, while nearly two thirds of respondents said
they would try cultured meat, only one third would eat it regularly
(Wilks & Phillips, 2017). Focus group studies have been published from
the Netherlands (Van der Weele & Driessen, 2013), Finland (Vinnari &
Tapio, 2009), the UK (Bows et al., 2012;O'Keefe, McLachlan, Gough,
Mander & Bows-Larkin, 2016), Ireland (Department of Agriculture,
Food and the Marine, 2013), the US (Hart Research Associates, 2017)
and a comparative study of Belgium, the UK and Portugal (Marcu et al.,
2014;Verbeke et al., 2015). Most studies report a diversity of responses
spanning positive and negative, although the Finnish study found no-
tably lower levels of support for cultured meat, while the Dutch study
suggested the more participants learnt about cultured meat the more
they were willing to support it. Studying the impact of new knowledge
on perception was the key focus of another Dutch study, this time using
psychological experiments with 506 responses, which found dierent
stimuli information altered individuals' considered opinions of cultured
meat, although it did not aect their instinctive positive or negative
response (Bekker, Fischer, Tobi, & van Trijp, 2017) (see Bryant &
Barnett, 2018 for a full review of consumer acceptance studies).
While we support the conduct of ongoing studies on the opinions of
various publics like those reported here, we also concur with Bekker's
nding that novel information impacts perception, and we further
stress the opportunities for ux and change in the real-world context of
cultured meat that would inevitably shape what information is avail-
able to publics in their reckoning about the technology. For example,
should cultured meat enter the market it may be after other cellular
agriculture products, such as milk or egg white, which may have swifter
pathways to wider-scale commercialisation. Subsequently publics' per-
ceptions of cultured meat could be swayed by these earlier experiences
if the category of cellular agriculture remains suciently robust to
continue to draw them together. Even if not, the novelty, pace of in-
novation, and ambiguities over the status of cultured meat mean a
changing context is likely, so while empirical research with publics
today remains vital we must remain cautious of their predictive capa-
city for opinions in future years in which the context may be dierent.
To be clear, these existing studies of consumer acceptance and public
perception remain informative and we believe more are needed, but we
also stress the need to recognise the potential for perceptions to change.
5.2. Social, political and institutional impacts
While these ethical and consumer acceptance issues remain crucial
avenues of enquiry, our argument here is that it is equally vital to ex-
tend the analysis of cultured meat to also consider the related social,
political and institutional implications it may incur. These issues inform
each other, and it is vital they are inspected collectively. Numerous
narratives in favour of cultured meat and other alternative proteins
have emphasised the ability for these novel foods to disrupt, and thus
overcome, the negative impacts associated with conventional livestock
production. However, cultured meat has to date existed predominantly
in promissory narratives rather than in tangible, material forms
(Jönsson, 2016;Stephens & Ruivenkamp, 2016;Stephens, King, & Lyall,
2018). The abundance of this aspiration rhetoric (fuelled largely by
corporate and media actors) coupled with the relative lack of scientic
assessments, such as Life Cycle Assessments, has made for an ambig-
uous and at-times prematurely optimistic discourse around cultured
meat. It is not yet certain what a cultured meat sector may look like
(e.g. few large-scale vs. many smaller-scale producers), nor what inputs
will be required (e.g. animal vs. synthetic growth media) and what their
respective environmental and ethical footprints will be.
There is consequently much need for continued assessment of the
diverse range of impacts that may come with cultured meat as it de-
velops, both positive and negative, and how these may contribute to or
recongure existing political economies in the global food system (see
also Mouat & Prince, 2018). Broad-based engagement on these impacts
is needed across a diverse range of academic, practitioner and policy
experts working at the coalface of environmental, health, food security,
and animal welfare issues. In particular, such analysis should consider
who may potentially be the winnersand losersof a cultured meat
sector as it emerges. Pluhar (2010, p. 464) states that for cultured meat
to be realised as an ethically acceptable solution it would need to be
accessible as a consumable product for people from all economic
backgrounds and cultures if that is their wish. We argue that similar
attention on social and economic equality is also required at the pro-
duction level. Key questions include: who will produce cultured meat
(i.e. farmers, agribusinesses, bioscientists), and more specically, who
is already enabled to adopt, and potentially prot from, this tech-
nology; where will production take place (i.e. Global North/South, on
farms/in factories); and, what are the associated social, political, en-
vironmental and ethical implications of these developments? Concerns
have been raised in public focus groups that cultured meat will provide
a new frontier for multinational corporations to accumulate further
capital and power over the food system (Driessen & Korthals, 2012), a
point also raised by Hocquette (2016) who argues it may further sup-
port the domination of Global North economies over those of the South.
Conversely, others have envisaged the potential for a shift towards lo-
calised and more connected relationships with meat production for
example, the pig in the backyardscenario discussed by Van der Weele
and Driessen (2013) or ideas of community donor herds that live out
their lives serving local areas with their slaughter-free cells. Exploring
how cultured meat will become situated within existing socio-political
N. Stephens et al. Trends in Food Science & Technology 78 (2018) 155–166
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relations regarding the commodication of nature (Birch, Levidow, &
Papaioannou, 2010), the dierent scales and geographies of food pro-
duction and consumption, and the politics of sustainable and healthy
eating (Sexton, 2016), is of critical importance for understanding the
ability of cultured meat to realise the promises its proponents currently
claim. Importantly, this is a task that must be conducted in the current
early stages of the technology and as it develops over the coming years.
When considering these potential future relations it is vital to
identify and interrogate their underlying assumptions. As just one ex-
ample, it is clear that some of the narratives on the potential benets of
cultured meat implicitly assume a substitution eect, implying that
rising consumption of cultured meat would equate to declining con-
sumption of conventional meat. This is particularly so for the en-
vironmental narratives and the animal welfare narratives that are
premised upon reductions in animal suering and environmental im-
pact through signicant reduction in global livestock populations.
Under a full substitution eect, all traditional meat production would
be replaced by cultured meat leading to dramatic falls in animal-related
emissions, land use, and slaughters. However this assumption is as yet
unsubstantiated and we could instead consider as a thought experiment
the impact of an addition eect, in which cultured meat production
works not to reduce conventional meat production, but instead to in-
crease the total global meat consumption (of cultured and conventional
combined). Under a full addition eect, traditional meat production
would not decrease at all, and neither would its environmental impacts
nor the numbers of animals slaughtered. The potential for addition, as
opposed to substitution, is an under-considered aspect of this work.
Core to these environmental and animal suering narratives is the
concern that rising populations and incomes mean demand for meat
will outstrip global supply. In this circumstance of insucient supply
and signicantly increased demand, it seems reasonable at least to
consider that conventional meat production might not fall dramatically,
especially if cultured meat products were considered less desirable.
Such a thought experiment would lead us to consider how an addition
eect could be avoided, and what the conditions of future adoption
might be. However, the point here is not to argue that the substitution
eect would not occur, but instead to suggest we require a more
complex engagement with the political aspects of delivering cultured
meat, and an ongoing questioning of underlying assumptions within
existing accounts (see also Dilworth & McGregor, 2015).
In deciding the policy landscape in relation to cultured meat, we
also argue that consideration must be given to how a cultured meat
workforce will materialise and the role of governments in providing
nancial (e.g. subsidies, grants) and training support for smaller-scale
producers who wish to transition to cultured meat production. We
anticipate the need for a workforce with a range of skills and knowledge
levels that extend beyond more traditional roles of, for example, agri-
culturalists and veterinarians to also include chemists, cell biologists,
material scientists, chemical engineers, skeletal muscle scientists,
technicians, meat scientists and food technologists. Furthermore, in the
event of changes to existing regulations such as the legal categories of
meat,dairyand eggs’–there is critical need to examine how such
changes might aect conventional, non-cellular agriculture businesses.
5.3. Anticipated regulatory pathways
A small but important set of literatures on the regulation of cultured
meat exists, with Schneider (2013) considering regulation in the United
States and Petetin (2014) considering the European Union. Both argue
the regulations at the time of writing were inadequate to appropriately
deal with cultured meat technology without signicant development. In
the US case, Schneider (2013) argues the frequently used regulatory
model of substantial equivalencebetween cultured meat and livestock
meat is inappropriate because, he argues, livestock meat is not a natural
version of cultured meat. He then argues the appropriate regulatory
pathway depends upon the techniques used in production, suggesting
that explant systems (that expand existing animal muscle tissues, (cf
Benjaminson et al., 2002) follow Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
New Animal Drugs Applications requirements, while scaold-based
production systems that expand from cells as opposed to fully formed
muscle tissue (cf Post, 2014), should follow FDA food additive provi-
sions.
In the EU case, Petetin (2014) argues cultured meat would be sub-
ject to novel food regulation, but notes that it does not easily t the
framework at the time of writing. Petetin speculates on the benets of
draft 2013 proposals, of which a version was subsequently approved as
Ocial Journal of the European Union (2015), that remove the con-
sideration of substantial equivalence issues that existed in previous EU
and current FDA regulation (Schneider, 2013). These new regulations
prioritise the precautionary principle via a European Food Safety Au-
thority (EFSA) risk assessment. While we do not have the legal expertise
of Petetin in assessing these regulations, we do note a possible error in
her analysis in that Petetin's account assumes that cultured meat is not a
genetically-modied product; yet as we describe earlier in this review,
the potential for genetically modifying the cells is a key issue of con-
testation within the eld with several laboratories pursuing this route.
The relevance of this point is that the new EU 2015 Novel Food reg-
ulations exclude genetically-modied foods from their remit, instead
pointing towards the regulation on genetically-modied food and feed
specically designed for this type of product (Ocial Journal of the
European Union, 2003,2015). In eect this provides another example
of Schneider's observation that dierent production methods imply
dierent regulatory pathways, and that currently uncertainties around
both the technology and the regulation mean identifying a clear
pathway remains a task of dealing with ambiguity.
This given, there are key regulatory issues that require attention
that are raised here to provoke further discussion, using the pre-Brexit
UK context as an example regulatory system. We agree with Petetin
(2014) that EU Novel Food Regulation is the most likely pathway, in the
UK mediated by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). A key issue will be
establishing if cultured meat is a product of animal origin. We believe it
likely will be, although challenging this it is worth remembering that (i)
when culturing begins the animal cells are a small proportion of ma-
terial used compared with the culturing media (which may or may not
be animal-based), and (ii) cell lines may be considered a processed
product. However, assuming cultured meat is understood as of animal
origin then regulation in practice would involve a range of organisa-
tions. Extracting muscle biopsies and the keeping of a donor herd would
likely include Livestock, Animal Welfare & Slaughter Regulation, in-
cluding the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Aairs, The
Animal and Plant Health Agency, the FSA, and Local Authorities. Cul-
tured meat products themselves would require food regulation via the
FSA, Local Authority Environmental Health Department, and Local
Authority Trading Standards. In both cases local authorities are heavily
involved, so due to its complexity we advocate a primary authority
model in which one local authority with expertise in the area acts on
behalf of all other authorities.
A key concern of the regulations will be safety. This requires an
awareness of auditing that should be addressed from the outset of an-
imal cell-based cellular agriculture product development as it brings
together cell culture and meat science. Here we provide some examples
for consideration, although this is not an exhaustive list. For example,
in terms of cell sourcing, donation, procurement and testing of human
tissues and cells (Commission Directive 2006/17/EC) and Human
Tissue (Quality and Safety for Human Application) Regulations
(Legislation.gov.uk, 2007) are the only current directives to base donor
cell criteria on. Being medically-orientated documents, these would
have to be revised for cultured meat to make it economically viable,
and recognise that the end product is not human, no longer living, and
ingested, and thus requires dierent and appropriate regulations.
However, the principles can be the basis of testing. Cells may be taken
from live animals so the Animal Welfare Act (2006) will be of
N. Stephens et al. Trends in Food Science & Technology 78 (2018) 155–166
162
importance. In terms of processing, auditing should include (i) identi-
cation of key possible pathogens, and safety measures to inhibit con-
tamination (through a HACCP-based system), (ii) ensuring ageing of
meat is greater than 24h to allow for total cell death, (iii) monitoring
and quality assurance of cellular functions at each stage (viability, self-
renewal, death and dierentiation) are pivotal to quality, function and
sustainability, assays for cell potency, and testing of genetic stability
(Kirouac and Zandstra, 2008), (iv) the managing of metabolic waste by
disposal, recycling or upgrading, and (v) production plant hazard and
operability study (HAZOP).
Further research will also be needed to conrm or dispel un-
certainties over various potential safety issues. Candidate topics for
research include the safety of ingesting genetically-modied cell lines,
as these lines exhibit the characteristics of a cancerous cell which in-
clude overgrowth of cells not attributed to the original characteristics of
a population of cultured primary cells (Ruddon, 2003). Ambiguity
stems from a lack of, and conicting research with some work con-
rming the transfer of DNA, such as Netherwood et al. (2004) and
Spisak et al. (2013). The FDA continue to review regulation and stan-
dards for food from genetically-modied animals (FDA, 2017).
Safety and auditing methods also link to production facility reg-
ulation. This broader category includes issues such as whether large-
scale bioreactors are considered agricultural facilities, with UK agri-
culture subject to signicantly more permissive planning requirements
if on designated land. Production facilities may also need to be located
in high power zones, and be subject to relevant regulation on energy
and environment. Furthermore waste removal strategies require at-
tention, for example if cultured meat waste products are considered
animal by-products then the Animal Health and Plant Agency may need
consulting. Finally, consideration is needed of whether cellular agri-
culture facilities of dierent scales require dierent regulatory path-
ways, as happens in the UK for other forms of food production.
Another regulatory issue is the potential for food fraud, as evi-
denced in the 2013 European horsemeat scandal. In the case of cultured
meat this falls into two main forms: (i) attempts to pass cultured meat
as conventional livestock meat, and (ii) attempts to pass conventional
livestock meat as cultured meat. In the case of combined cultured and
conventional livestock meat products there could also be the risk of
mislabelling the proportions of meat type. In the alcohol industry
trackers are becoming commonplace to prove the provenance of a
product. A protein trackerfor cultured meat could provide inspectors
with a tool for product verication. In a cultured meat context there is a
need for regulatory bodies to be aware of this, and for researchers to
develop a set of protein trackers that are suited to cultured meat.
The nal regulatory issue raised here relates to cellular agriculture
from non-livestock species (including human). A regulatory response
will be needed for cellular agriculture products using non-agricultural
animals. Categories for consideration include: endangered and pro-
tected animals, dangerous animals, companion animals, and im-
portantly, human cellular agriculture. This work should take note of the
full range of production scales from industrial through to DIY home-
based culturing. Ethical, social, and safety considerations of the per-
missibility and necessary protections for these forms of cellular agri-
culture are required.
6. Conclusion
This article has aimed to review the current context of cultured meat
by focusing upon the interrelated technical and social aspects of the
eld, while retaining a willingness to critically engage with the tech-
nology. We close the paper by looking ahead in anticipation of what
may come in the near and further future.
It seems reasonable to argue that the production of small-scale
cultured meat products of edible quality should be achievable in the
near future and in some regards is possible now. These are likely to be
versions of processed meat products that seek visceral equivalence to
familiar products. However, the timeline for delivering this at a price
competitive point similar to existing processed meat products is less
determinate. Large-scale production is signicantly more challenging,
the key issue being the production of eective and appropriately priced
culture media. The most ambitious production target - producing cul-
tured meat on a scale that could make marked impacts on global cli-
mate change - is likely to take many decades, if it is at all possible.
The meanings and terminologies associated with cultured meat re-
main in ux, and this could remain the case for some time. Within the
cultured meat eld the general consensus is that cultured meat is meat
as we know it, although made through other means and designed with
altruistic or social and environmental benets, and that the preferred
term is cultured meat' or clean meat(although exceptions exist).
However, meaning is produced collectively, and while the eld may
assert this way of thinking, it is not given that societies more broadly
will necessarily take these meanings on board, or that these names will
not be replaced by others. Meaning production is diuse, complex, and
multifaceted, and the understandings attached to cultured meat could
be reshaped by many factors that are beyond the control of the eld
itself.
We have argued that too many current accounts of the social impact
of cultured meat rely on an overly simplistic argument that frames the
issue as one of consumer acceptance. If cultured meat technology does
reach the scale proposed by some that enables it to deliver meaningful
climate change mitigation then this could be part of a signicant and
potentially global-scale shift in livelihoods, practices and supply chains
across multiple sectors beyond just agriculture (e.g. steel and trans-
port). The success of a cultured meat sector would also depend upon
complex social apparatus and government policies, including regulation
and tax and subsidy regimes. As such, the continued growth of this
sector will likely bring considerable social, political and economic im-
plications for multiple and various stakeholders. There is much need
therefore for continued critical analysis of these factors to more fully
understand who will be impacted and in what ways, and we anticipate
seeing these debates, and the range of engaged stakeholders, expand in
the coming years.
Research within the eld is currently conducted in both University
and private start-up environments (although sometimes the two are
linked). From publically available information it seems the start-ups are
currently more successful in attracting funding through venture capital
than the Universities are through government and charity funding
streams. At the time of writing there is much optimism within the eld
as increasing numbers of start-up companies secure funding, often from
high-prole sources, through cycles of high expectations and invest-
ment. However, there is no guarantee that this cycle will continue to be
successful in the longer term. The current investment cycle is fuelled
within a context of fast-paced innovation, as novel small-scale proto-
type and demonstration products are developed and given media and
investor attention. However, these relatively quick-wins may dry up as
the more intractable challenge of delivering the upscale necessary for
lower prices and large-scale distribution slows visible progress, and the
current initial burst of investor interest shifts. As is the case in many
industries populated by start-ups, it is likely some of the current set of
companies will fail, and possible the sector as a whole may experience a
collapse as seen in some tech-bubbles. It is important that the eld has
an inbuilt resilience to retain expertise and support should the invest-
ment momentum drop. Key groups in securing this future could be the
start-ups that survive any collapse (perhaps through being bought by
larger companies), third sector groups such as New Harvest and the
Good Food Institute (although these are also susceptible to nancial
instability), and the Universities.
It is also worthwhile to remain mindful of the possibility that we
could see a situation in which we have an economically-viable cultured
meat sector that does not deliver all of the more altruistic or social and
environmental benets currently associated with the technology. For
example, net global reductions in greenhouse gases or animal
N. Stephens et al. Trends in Food Science & Technology 78 (2018) 155–166
163
slaughters may not be delivered if livestock meat production is not
reduced as cultured meat production increases. Furthermore, gains in
health or energy use may not be delivered if the organisations produ-
cing cultured meat prioritise other factors in their system. It is clear that
the current set of cultured meat groups are motivated by altruistic or
social and environmental goals and work to develop innovative ap-
proaches that maximise potential benet. However there is no guar-
antee that these motivations will be shared and pursued by future
cultured meat producers, and we are not yet convinced that the benets
are necessarily inherently embedded within the technology, as could be
argued. A situation in which cultured meat was economically viable but
delivered few of the altruistic or social and environmental benets
would be a disappointment; as such, we urge the eld and its stake-
holders to remain attendant to supporting the delivery of the projected
benets.
We do accept that cultured meat could still be an important tech-
nology for addressing a range of environmental and food security is-
sues. However, we warn against perspectives that position cultured
meat as the dening solution. The contemporary context of planetary
tipping points, as well as rising global demand for animal-derived
foods, clearly presents signicant challenges to existing meat produc-
tion practices; however, care must be taken to recognise the systemic
nature of these challenges and that technox approaches, such as cul-
tured meat, should not be viewed as the only solution. We argue instead
for a multi-faceted response which includes a range of approaches, in-
cluding promoting meat reduction and plant-based proteins, improved
waste management strategies, and policy reforms that redress the sys-
temic inequalities within contemporary protein and livestock food
systems.
Cultured meat remains an early stage technology with a diverse
range of potential benets and a wide set of challenges. In this article
we have reviewed key issues with a preparedness to critically engage
with these technical, social and regulatory challenges, highlight un-
certainties, and suggest issues for further consideration. As this review
demonstrates, there is a valuable literature emerging considering the
multiple facets of the challenging and, to some, unusual technologies of
cellular agriculture. However, we recognise the need for further re-
search and analysis from a wider set of disciplinary academic and sta-
keholder positions, working together in interdisciplinary teams to ad-
dress the technical, social and regulatory challenges. Through a
continuing emphasis on interdisciplinary critical engagement with
cellular agriculture and its ramications, a more nuanced set of un-
derstandings will emerge leading to more robust socio-technical re-
sponses to these challenges and opportunities.
Acknowledgements
Neil Stephens' work was funded by the Economic and Social
Research Council [RES-349-25-0001], the Seventh Framework
Programme [288971], a Wellcome Trust small grant [WT096541MA], a
Centre for Society and Genomics Visiting Scholarship (15/5/11-15/7/
11), and a Wellcome Trust Research Fellowship [WT208198/Z/17/Z].
Lucy Di Silvio and Abigail Glencross' work was funded by New Harvest
[001]. Alex Sexton's work was funded by the Economic and Social
Research Council [grant number ES/J500057/1]. We thank the editors
and peer reviewers for their comments.
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... Plant-derived products such as cocoa, cotton, or palm oil can also be targeted through cellular agriculture approaches. The potential benefits of cellular agriculture lie in the removal of the animal or plant middle-man, coincident with a reduction in any negative externalities that contribute to climate change and environmental degradation, risk of antibiotic resistance and zoonotic disease, and animal welfare concerns (Stephens et al. 2018). Furthermore, having more control over the production process may lead to safer, more nutritious, and tastier products than their conventionally produced counterparts. ...
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