Is cruelty-free meat a likely possibility for the future?
Veganism is on the rise due to increasing awareness about the effects of the meat and dairy industry, and therefore people are creating more and more cruelty-free products to accompany this new demand. An American stem cell biologist is currently working on growing farm animal cell lines, in the attempt to create a cruelty-free method of obtaining real animal meat and other animal products. This might sound impossible, but the fast development of scientific knowledge over the past 50 years, specifically in terms of stem cell research, means that this might not be too far from becoming a reality. The theory behind this idea is that animal material can be painlessly sourced from the cells of actual birds taken easily from the root of a detached feather. Chicken ‘Ian’ has been saved from slaughter and he is taken to his new backyard home where he will live out his natural lifespan, while also acting as a pioneer that could enable the production of animal-free meat. ‘Clean meat’, as it will be called, is being intently researched with millions of dollars’ worth of funding by Hampton Creek, a business dedicated to providing vegan alternatives to egg products, who recently decided to put their efforts into this new research. Hampton Creek hopes to one day help completely eliminate chicken suffering in the US, where nearly nine billion chickens are slaughtered annually for food, and 35 million cattle slaughtered. Using the same technology, there are many start-ups that are taking tiny cultures of animal muscle cells to grow outside the animal’s body. If successful, this technology could help with the upheaval and renewal of our dysfunctional and hugely damaging food system, solving extreme environmental issues as well as food security and economic challenges. With sufficient funding and approval, and acceptance by consumers, these products could eventually be made on an international scale. Challenges within this are already becoming clear; any animal-based blood serum is both necessary for the successful cultivating and feeding of the cells and is a nonstarter for both ethical and financial reasons. To work, therefore, it is vital for a cheaper and less ethically problematic nutrient to feed the cells. Growth factors or mimetics are currently too expensive for the successful development of the technology. The cost is so vital to the success of the product for consumer acceptance, and to allow the product to be a financially viable option for everyone. Despite these issues, this technology is promising and could be a path to a cleaner, healthier and more ethical world.