Why In Vitro Meat?
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations' recent report "Livestock's long shadow - environmental issues and options", global production of meat is projected to more than double from 229x109 kg/year in 1999/2000 to 465x109 kg/year in 2050 (Steinfeld et al. 2006, FAO document). The bulk of growth will occur in developing countries through intensive production systems where economies of scale will cause a steady increase of the size of operations. It is expected that the future growth of livestock output will be based on similar growth rates for feed concentrate use.
The total area occupied by livestock grazing is around 34x106 km2, which is equivalent to 26 % of the land surface area of the planet (Steinfeld et al. 2006). The total area used for feedcrop production is about 4.7x106 km2, equivalent to 33 % of all cropland. Most of this cropland is located in OECD countries, but some developing countries are rapidly expanding their feedcrop production, notably maize and soybean in South America, in particular Brazil. The total remaining area suitable for rain-fed production is estimated to be about 28x106 km2, of which 45 % is forest area (12.6x106 km2) (Steinfeld et al. 2006). Livestock contribute about 9 % of total carbon dioxide emissions, 37 % of methane and 65 % of nitrous oxide. In terms of CO2 equivalents the gaseous emissions from livestock production amounts to about 18 % of the global warming effects. This is more than the contribution from the total transportation sector. Concerning polluting gaseous emissions not linked to climate change, livestock waste contributes 68 % of total emissions of ammonia (30x109 kg/year) (Steinfeld et al. 2006). About 0.13x106 km2 of forest is lost per year and the majority is converted to agricultural land (Steinfeld et al. 2006).
Besides the environmental impact of meat production, large scale farming and worldwide transport of livestock and animal products have contributed to a surge of infectious diseases that not only affect animals but also pose a threat to humans all over the world (Tilman et al. 2002). Moreover, in Western societies there is an increasing concern about the animal welfare issues attached to industrialized production (Croney and Millman 2007) where normal economic principles force the development of production routines where living animals are treated as inanimate capitalistic commodities.
In a business as usual perspective: (i) the spatial and commercial concentration of livestock production will continue to grow, (ii) the pressure on crop agriculture to expand will remain high, and the associated environmental impacts, in terms of deforestation, water depletion, climate change and biodiversity loss, will grow, (iii) livestock contribution to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions will increase, and (iv) livestock-induced degradation of the world's arid and semi-arid lands will continue, in particular in Africa and South and Central Asia (Steinfeld et al. 2006).
It is a tremendous political and economic challenge to change this grim scenario into a more sustainable one if we continue to base our meat consumption solely on production of animals. It will demand sacrifices that are probably well beyond what will be accepted by the majority of citizens in developed countries. One way to get out of this predicament is to exploit the potential of modern biotechnology and process technology to produce meat from normal muscle progenitor cells in bioreactors at an industrial scale. If this production strategy were to replace a substantial part of the current meat production regime, this may allow development of a downsized animal production industry which can acquire a competitive edge in the upper-level meat market by documenting that it is ecologically sound and meets basic animal welfare requirements.
An environmentally friendly cultured meat technology rests on four basic premises: (1) the culturing of stem cells from farm animals of choice that are able to proliferate at a high rate but that do not differentiate, (2) the efficient differentiation of these stem cells into muscle cells that contain all nutrients present in conventional meat, (3) the application of a growth medium that does not contain animal products, and (4) the organisation of the muscle cells into 3-dimensional muscle structures.
1. Croney, C. C., S. T. Millman. 2007. Board-invited review: The ethical and behavioural bases for farm animal welfare legislation. Journal of Animal Science, 85: 556-565.
2. Steinfeld, H., P. Gerber, T. Wassenaar, V. Castel, M. Rosales, C. de Haan. 2006. Livestock's long shadow - Environmental issues and options, FAO document, 390 pp.
3. Tilman, D., K. G. Cassman, P. A. Matson, R. Naylor, S. Polasky. 2002. Agricultural sustainability and intensive production practices. Nature, 418: 671-677.
Primer on technology
An environmentally friendly cultured meat technology rests on four basic premises: (1) the culturing of muscle progenitor cells from farm animals of choice that are able to proliferate at a high rate, (2) the application of a growth medium that does not contain animal products, (3) the efficient differentiation of the progenitor cells into muscle cells that contain all nutrients present in conventional meat, and (4) the organisation of the muscle cells into 3-dimensional muscle structures.
The symposium was held at the Norwegian Food Research Institute (Matforsk), Aas, Norway, hosted by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (UMB) and the Norwegian Food Research Institute (Matforsk).
The two main goals of the symposium were to identify and discuss the key scientific challenges that need to be solved and to formalize an organizational structure capable of binding together the various efforts as well as facilitating the funding of necessary activities.
The talks were given by leading scientists and representatives from industry and organizations in the US and Europe (for further information see the Programme).
The first evening a general introduction was given by Jason Matheny (New Harvest & Johns Hopkins Univ., USA), where he summed up the visions of whys, wherefores and what can be achieved by producing meat in vitro. He addressed in particular animal welfare, in addition to human health issues related to meat consumption and environmental issues. The next speaker was Elizabeth DeCoux (Florida Coastal School of Law, USA) who also addressed the importance of animal welfare, and she gave several good examples of how organizations have forced the meat industry (e.g. McDonald’s) in the US to become more conscientious regarding animal welfare.
On Thursday, the sessions were divided into the different areas of expertise needed regarding in vitro meat production: 1) large scale production of cell culture medium, 2) stem cell separation, creation, large scale proliferation and maintenance, and 3) large scale muscle tissue engineering. In summing up Thursday’s presentations, the main obstacle would appear to be to define the right type of stem cell to use for large scale production of cultured meat, and thus define the end product (ie. minced meat vs. muscle tissue). There is also a need for developing a process technology (ie. large and complex engineering plants) for the efficient large scale production of muscle tissue from stem cells.
On Friday, Bernard Roelen (University of Utrecht, Netherlands) and Jason Matheny presented the ongoing in vitro meat R & D activities in Europe and US, respectively. Stig Omholt (Chairman of this Consortium, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Norway) then gave a short presentation of the feasibility analysis carried out by economists at eXmoor pharma concepts (UK) (The In Vitro Meat Consortium Preliminary Economics Study). This report stated that it should be possible to produce in vitro meat in large quantities for less than Euro 3300 - 3500 / tonne. This compares with the unsubsidised production of chicken meat at around Euro 1800 / tonne. On this basis it makes sense to continue to invest in both:
• developing the process technology for the efficient large scale production of muscle tissue from stem cells.
• developing cheaper and larger volume sources of growth medium that do not contain animal products.
The discussion then proceeded to the organization of the In Vitro Meat Consortium, where Stig Omholt presented an organizational roadmap describing the vision statement, organizational structure, consortium rules and funding strategies. He proposed that the purpose of the international non-profit consortium should be to promote scientific excellence and to coordinate and fund research contributing to the establishment of a large-scale process industry to make engineered muscle tissue for human consumption. However, since the legal structure of this consortium is not in place, the interim steering committee should continue to strive towards the goal of formally establishing the foundation of this consortium. The original steering committee was expanded to include Jason Matheny (New Harvest & Johns Hopkins Univ., USA) and Henk Haagsman (University of Utrecht, Netherlands), in addition to Stig W. Omholt (Chairman, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Norway), Willem van Eelen (Vitro Meat BV, Netherlands), Bernard Roelen (University of Utrecht, Netherlands), Gunnar Kleppe (Norwegian Bioindustry Association, Norway), and Jose Teixeira (University of Minho, Portugal).