Cell-culture Technology and Potential Impacts on Livestock Production

 

Jonathan A. Campbell, Tara L. Felix, Elizabeth Hines, And Robert M. Chiles, Penn State University

via FarmJournal's Pork - January 3, 2019

 

Cellular agriculture has quickly metamorphized from an internet curiosity to a serious policy issue, and producers and consumers alike are looking for greater clarity about what this new technology might mean for their business, as well as their dinner table.

 

The introduction of cell-culture based food products is likely to bring substantial changes to meat processing and the livestock production agriculture sector. Recently, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have joined forces to share oversight of the cellular based meat industry. These two federal agencies together will regulate cell cultured food products derived from livestock and poultry tissue based on the respective regulatory expertise of the organizations. A joint statement released last month by the two agencies said they would be working together to “foster these innovative food products and maintain the highest standards of public health.” The FDA will be in charge of regulating the collection, banking and growing of the cells used to make artificial meat, while the USDA will work on the production and labeling of food products.

 

Due to the increasing complexity of modern food production and governance, the conversation around cell-cultured food technology might be confusing. This article will provide you with useful background information on the scientific history and current state of cell-culture technology in food production. In addition, an overview of the implications of this technology on meat product labeling, meat production, and livestock agriculture will be provided.

 

Current State of Cell-culture Meat Production

 

The application of cell-culture based food production is possible through utilizing bioengineering processes that have already been well established in both food and pharmaceuticals. Application of cell-culture technology into meat production shares similar objectives with the modern livestock and meat production industries: maximize production and minimize inputs. In traditional livestock production, improvements to efficiency of tissue production has been accomplished through selective breeding, specialized nutrition programs, improved housing facilities, and advanced veterinary care Cell-cultured meat production seeks to further improve efficiency by optimizing the energy and resource expenditures devoted to building fat and muscle, while eliminating the need to fuel growth of other animal tissues that are considered low value food products in the current American marketplace.

 

The field of cell-cultured tissue production has been well established in the bioengineering and pharmaceutical production. The application of this technology to meat production, however, has emerged only recently. Pioneering efforts in cell-cultured meat production were inspired two Australian bioengineers who showcased this possibility at an art exhibit in the early 2000s. Specifically, production of cell-cultured meat featured in the art exhibit involved the construction of muscle utilizing embryonic stem cells, on specialty scaffolding, and application of appropriate nutrition and stimulation were able to form muscle fibers that make up the meat product. This conceptual demonstration inspired others to consider the possibility of scaling their technique to an industrial level. Small working groups of tissue engineers and meat scientists continued to advance the field from the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s, either through spin-offs projects on medical research grants or through direct funding from private investors and government research agencies. In 2009, it was reported that the first in vitro pork fillet was produced at Eindhoven University in Holland; however, the fillet was not considered to be fit for human consumption. In 2013, a momentous breakthrough occurred when the first ever cell culture-based beef burger was presented to a celebrity chef at a widely publicized taste test. This event drew journalists, scientists, meat processors, and venture capitalists from around the globe, and their contributions ultimately generated hundreds of millions of dollars that have been invested in cell-culture based agriculture in recent years. To date, while there are now several dozens of cell-culture based meat production companies, including JUST, Memphis Meats, and Mosa Meats, these companies have yet to roll out a product that is ready for public distribution.

 

The Issue with Labeling and Regulation ...

 

Actions Taken ...

 

Are Livestock in Limbo? ... 

 

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