Can cultivated meat promote better health? Time will tell

When we go to the market, we are comfortable buying fruits and vegetables that we know have been grown on a farm, packaged and shipped to the store. Would we feel as comfortable if we knew that rather than being raised on a ranch the meat for our grill was “grown” in a lab?

That day may be coming.

What is cultivated meat?

Cultivated meat is created from cells extracted from living animals. The cells are nourished and grown inside industrial tanks until they are ready to be harvested and prepared for sale.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the process in November after concluding that lab-grown meat is safe to eat.

That doesn’t mean it is coming soon to a store near you. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) still must approve both the product and the facilities manufacturing lab-grown meat before it can be brought to market.

Is cultivated meat high-quality nutrition?

Dana Hunnes, PhD, MPH, RD, a clinical registered dietitian at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, says there could be upsides to cultivated meat but it’s too early to know for sure.

“In principle, cultivated meat is almost nutritionally identical to farm- or ranch-raised meat,” she said. “But with cultivated meat, you can adjust the medium in which the living cells are grown to add certain vitamins and nutrients that would alter, and perhaps improve, its nutritional quality.”

Another upside Dr. Hunnes sees is the potential to decrease the chance of contamination and foodborne diseases such as salmonella and other intestinal pathogens, though scientists say that cells could mature unpredictably.

Might cultivated meat attract vegans and vegetarians?

This new technology comes at a time when consumption of meat is on an upswing, even as vegetarianism and veganism has increased. In the 1980s, the average American consumed more than 190 pounds of meat a year. Today, meat-eating Americans consume more than 220 pounds, on average.

While Dr. Hunnes does not predict that cultivated meat will have much impact on the vegan and vegetarian demographic, she can see some trying it because the process does not involve killing animals.

“As a plant-based person myself, I think it is possible that vegetarians, vegans and plant-based people might try it because it is animal-cruelty free,” she said, noting that the process for creating the product is still evolving.

Find out more about diet and nutrition.

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