Interpretive Summary: Cell-based meat: the need to assess holistically
By: Anne Wallace
Global meat consumption has been increasing on a per-capita basis over the past half century. Meat is nutrient dense and contains a great deal of protein, however, largescale livestock production poses valid concerns with regards to sustainability and the environment.
Cell-based meat is real animal tissue created in a laboratory for human consumption. In this Journal of Animal Science special topic article (August 2020), the broader impacts of creating and marketing such cell-based products are discussed. Aside technical and bioengineering challenges, addressing the sociocultural, environmental and regulatory impacts are highly necessary.
Connection of food to its traditional origins, that is to say, the processes of growing, feeding and raising animals as a “naturally” cultivated product versus a cell-based meat product, which may be largely perceived as an “unnatural” scientific process is one challenge to sociocultural acceptance. Perceptions of cell-based meat as unnatural were consistently expressed throughout different cultures and regions. Even if the core reasons were different, majority disfavor was universally expressed in the UK, the Global South (Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean), Europe and the USA. Such studies suggest that public perception of cell-based meat as “unnatural” may be a significant barrier to overcome. The environmental impacts of producing a cell-based meat product are currently unknown. The legal label of “meat” and regulations for inspection, safety and certification of cell-based products would also need to be clearly defined.
Overall, this special topic brings to view real challenges in the marketing and social acceptance of cell-based meat products. In some cases, cell-based products may be socioculturally unacceptable under any circumstances, necessitating niches for both conventional and cell-based products. Better understanding of the broader impacts of this very new area of animal and food science is needed.