Key Terms

Clean meat

Clean meat—also known as lab-grown, in vitro, or cultured meat—is meat that is grown in cell culture, rather than in an animal’s body. There is enormous interest in clean meat as it offers the potential to provide meat products without the raft of dangerous environmental and social impacts, connected with current methods of meat production.  Although still in its embryonic stages as an industry there are several companies well advanced on the journey towards meat without slaughter.

What is clean meat?

Plant-based meat uses ingredients derived from plants to resemble meat, whereas clean meat is made by collecting stem cells from an animal and growing them into muscle tissue. The aim is to re-create the complex taste and texture of real meat.

How is clean meat manufactured?

Each company has its own techniques for producing clean meat, but the overall process is broadly similar.

One or more types of stem cell – from embryonic stem cells to fully differentiated muscle cells – are extracted from the animal by a harmless biopsy and placed in a culture medium. Historically, fetal bovine serum, collected from calf fetuses when a pregnant cow is slaughtered, has been widely used; however, many companies have developed synthetic or plant-based growth media to avoid ethical issues. The culture medium provides nutrients, salts, pH buffers, and growth factors that allow the cells to proliferate. Once the cells reach sufficient numbers, the culture conditions are altered to cause the cells to form into muscle fibres.

Crafting a product that combines several ingredients with ground meat – a burger, for example – is much easier than mimicking a structured product like steak or chicken breast. For a ground meat product, muscle fibres are harvested and then assembled into a burger or meatball. To produce structured meats, on the other hand, stem cells must be seeded on a three-dimensional scaffold that moves and stretches the developing muscle, simulating an animal’s body.

What companies and investors are involved in clean meat?

There are currently no clean meat products on sale commercially, so most of the investment opportunities are around venture capital for start-ups in the space. Some of the companies currently active in both clean meat and ‘clean fish’ include Aleph Farms, Avant Meats, BlueNalu, Finless Foods, Fork & Goode, Good Catch, JUST, Memphis Meats, Mosa Meat, New Age Meats, Seafuture, and SuperMeat.