In this article we explore the concepts behind cultivated meat and seafood and the benefits these food products have in comparison to food derived from conventional agriculture.
What are Cultivated Meats and Seafood?
Cultivated meat and seafood are products composed of cells that are identical in terms of genetic make-up to that of their conventional counterparts (i.e., live-stock). Thus, the taste profile and nutritional value closely resemble that of meat and seafood derived from agriculture. Due to its resemblance, the term – cellular agriculture – has been coined to depict the unique processing of cultivated meat and seafood.
Unlike harvesting animals for their meat content, cellular agriculture draws from the inherent nature of stem-cells – the ability to grow and differentiate – and therefore propagate cells fully outside the animal host (i.e., in a manufacturing facility closely resembling that of a brewery). Cellular agriculture is the result of a cumulative effort through decades of scientific research in a multitude of scientific disciplines including stem-cell biology and tissue engineering.
The process of producing cultivated meat and seafood products generally follows through three different stages: cell line / stem-cell isolation, propagation through cell media formulation and scaffolding, and post process and packaging.
1) Stem-cell isolation involves the process of finding a suitable cell-line to produce the cultivated cells from. Isolating cells from the animal host is the only step to which animals are directly involved – yet, no animals are harmed and the process is non-intrusive. Once a suitable cell-line has been determined, it can be re-used for a multitude of batches of production – similar to that of making yoghurt to which you have a starter culture. Hence, animal interaction is kept at a minimum.
2) Cell-culture media is a formulation of natural constituents to provide the cells with a viable environment growth. Today, most companies are moving away from the traditionally used Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS) which is derived from bovine blood and are focusing on their own proprietary – animal-free – media for growth.
a. IntegriCulture – one of the earliest start-ups in the cultivated food space – has specialized in their proprietary CulNet system which is comprised of a closed system of feeder cells that produce the required formulation and hence obviates the need for added media.
Scaffolding refers to the extra-cellular matrix to which cultivated cells adhere and form structure/texture. It also provides the cell with the right environment in terms of facilitating oxygenation and delivery of vital nutrients. Naturally, scaffolding is composed of edible materials often in the form of polysaccharides or organic polymers.
b. SeaWith, a South Korean member, has pioneered the field by creating an algae based formulation for both scaffolding and media for cultivated meat and seafood production.
c. DaNAgreen, another South Korean member, has also specialized in formulating their own “Protinet” scaffolding material composed of their proprietary cross-linking of proteins.
3) The harvesting time from initiation to final product takes about 2-8 weeks depending on the source of the cultivated cells. The final product is in many cases minced or thin-cut; certain companies are also fully dedicated on the R&D behind whole muscle meats.
a. Aleph Farms, one of the fastest growing cultivated meat start-up with headquarters in Israel, is a trailblazer in the efforts of producing whole beef muscle steaks.
Why Cultivated Meat and Seafoods?
There are a multitude of different benefits for promoting cultivated meat and seafood products ranging from global sustainability to human health and animal welfare. Since cultivated products are grown in a facility – animal interaction is kept at a minimum only being required once isolating stem-cells. Moreover, propagated cells can proliferate at a much faster rate, completing a batch of consumable foods in just 2-8 weeks. Because only cells are being propagated - energy, water, and nutrition can be kept at much lower amounts than that of conventional agriculture. This in turn translate to a staggering decrease in global green house emissions and lessens the stressors being faced on the natural environment.
Another future concern that the world is facing is regarding food security, land utilisation, and the fact that the human population is rapidly growing towards 10 Billion people. With cellular agriculture, we introduce a substitute production mechanism to complement the growing population. We also mitigate the need for deforestation and even promote cultivated meat and seafood production in all locales across the globe - regardless of environmental constraints such as temperature, water, and fertile soil.
APAC-SCA members are dedicated towards the cause of a brighter future globally and recognise the inherent value of cultivated meat and seafood.