So much for farm to table … We’ve got lab to table now

Modern meat?


In a 2020 Health Yourself column titled “Meatless meat meet-and-greet,” I explored plant-based meat substitutes and how they compare nutritionally to real meat from livestock, poultry, and seafood. I also briefly presented information about meat grown in a lab from “real” animal cells. Lab-grown meat is known as modern meat, cultured meat, cell-based meat, cell-cultured meat, clean meat, synthetic meat, lab-grown meat, and in-vitro meat.

A bag of small tan chunks of food in a bag labeled lab-grown chicken meat.

Proponents of lab-grown meat say it could help address world hunger by offering protein alternatives. (Image courtesy of Vic Katch.)

Now, four years after I penned that article, lab-grown meat can be found in select restaurants and supermarkets. A decade ago, a single company with minimal financial support began to grow lab-based meat from mere cells. Today, there are more than a hundred worldwide startups with some $2B invested in this technology. Once relegated to science fiction, the lab-grown meat business is a burgeoning reality set to upend the definition of what we consider “meat.”

In April 2023, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale of lab-grown meat as safe for human consumption, clearing it for sale in this country. UPSIDE Foods and GOOD Meat (Eat Just) are two companies that produce what they term “cultivated meat.” Both  have received FDA approval to begin commercial sales.

The concept of creating animal meat grown in a giant vat, like what you see in distilleries, has been brewing for a decade. Now, modern-day advances make it possible to mass produce and deliver “meat” to the market and do so at a “reasonable” price. Good Meat recently announced a partnership with chef and restaurateur José Andrés to bring lab-grown meat to his Washington, D.C., restaurant. Its lab-grown “Chicken Bites” can be found in the frozen groceries section at Huber’s Butchery, a Singapore-based producer/supplier of high-quality meat products, making Singapore the world’s first government to allow retail sales. UPSIDE Foods plans to offer its lab-grown chicken to diners at Bar Crenn in San Francisco.

The effort to provide consumers with an alternative to farmed-animal meat is fourfold.

  1. To reduce unprocessed and processed red meat consumption due to its association with an increased risk of diabetes, stroke, certain cancers, and cardiovascular disease (and its subtypes).
  2. Rows of chickens in cages in a factor farm.

    The food system counts more than 100 billion animals worldwide, with more than 90% on factory farms (99% in the U.S.). (Stock image.)

    To address concerns regarding “factory farms,” animal welfare, and the effects of slaughterhouses. Factory farming, referred to as concentrated animal feeding operations (see my article on CAFOs), is problematic for many reasons. The food system counts more than 100 billion animals worldwide, with more than 90% on factory farms (99% in the U.S.). CAFOs prevent animals from moving, which increases the spread of mad cow disease, swine flu, avian flu, and COVID. This is particularly true for chickens: More than 99% of U.S. chickens raised for meat live on factory farms, confined to indoor quarters about the size of an 8″ X 10″ photograph. Their fast growth and small legs cause 90% of chickens to experience trouble walking, with some collapsing under their own weight. The birds also suffer from dehydration, respiratory disease, heart attacks, and infections.

  3. To address concerns regarding climate change and the effects produced by industrial meat production. Some 14.5% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock. Moreover, 44% of livestock greenhouse emissions come from methane (i.e., digestive gas of cattle) and from manure lagoons, 29% from nitrous oxide (mainly via synthetic fertilizers used for growing feed crops), and 27% from carbon dioxide via a swath of actions that include tree clearing, land-use change for growing feed crops, and farm management.
  4. To address world hunger by producing protein alternatives. People require protein to sustain life, with humans relying for millennia on meat as the primary source. Even though plants contain protein, and while it’s possible to live almost totally on a plant-based diet (10% or less of the U.S. population are complete plant-based eaters), meat remains the primary source of protein for the vast majority of people worldwide.

How to make meat in a lab

“Cellular agriculture,” the process of farming animal products from cells, represents a revolutionary leap in protein production.

Diagram takes one through the steps of growing meat in a laboratory.

Follow these simple steps and you, too, can produce alternative sources of protein in the laboratory. (Image coutesy of Vic Katch.)

  • Step 1: Manufacturers typically start with a sample of cells from an animal’s tissue, a process that does not require harm or death of the animal. Some cells from the sample are selected, screened, and grown to make a “bank” of cells to store for later use.
  • Step 2: A small number of stem cells are retrieved from the cell bank and placed in a tightly controlled and monitored environment that supports growth and cellular multiplication by supplying appropriate nutrients and other factors.
  • Step 3: After the cells have multiplied many times over into billions or trillions of cells, additional substances (for example, protein growth factors, new surfaces for cell attachment, and additional nutrients) are added to the controlled environment to enable the cells to differentiate into various cell types.
  • Step 4: Once the cells have differentiated into the desired type, the cellular material can be harvested from the controlled environment and prepared using conventional food processing and packaging methods.
  • Step 5: The fibers are processed and mixed with other “ingredients” to create “mince-cultured meat.”
  • Step 6: The cultured meat is formed into the desired shape and is ready for sale and consumption.

The entire process takes about three weeks for the sheets of “animal” cells to fully form before being shaped into chicken cutlets, sausages, nuggets, strips, patties, and more.

Benefits of lab-grown meat

Even though lab-grown meat production has ramped up, its short history leaves unanswered questions. Nevertheless, here’s what proponents say:

  1. Lab-grown meat is more efficiently produced than conventional animal agriculture. Prospective life-cycle assessments suggest that lab-grown meat requires significantly fewer resources and can reduce agriculture-related pollution and eutrophication (excessive nutrient deposits that suffocate plant and animal life in bodies of water).
  2. One study showed that if produced using renewable energy, cultivated meat could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 92% and land use by up to 90%, compared to conventional chicken/beef production.
  3. Lab-grown meat production is expected to occur entirely without antibiotics and is likely to result in fewer incidences of foodborne illnesses. Meat-borne illnesses transmitted from animals to humans are known as zoonotic diseases; they are mainly bacterial, viral, or parasitic and arise from many sources, including infected air or water, direct or indirect contact with animals, or through consumption of raw or contaminated foods. Producing meat in a sterilized laboratory could reduce the incidence of zoonotic diseases and have the potential to save lives, improve some people’s quality of life, and reduce healthcare costs across the economy.
  4. Lab-grown meat means fewer animals are mistreated and slaughtered.
  5. Potential for increased economic growth in terms of employment, occupational health, and mental health compared to agricultural meat production.
  6. The occupational health implications of the cellular agriculture industry are unknown but may be less hazardous than conditions surrounding agricultural meat production. Injuries and illnesses related to the agricultural industry are higher than those of other industries, with one of the highest reported fatality rates in the U.S.
  7. Lab-grown meat technology can potentially enhance the cellular agriculture industry and biomedical technology. Since most of the technology that supports lab-grown meat is leveraged from biomedical research, further advancements in production hold the potential to publish findings and create biotechnologies to improve human health. This includes the ability to culture organ tissues or cells used for transplants and other regenerative medicine interventions.

Downsides of lab-grown meat

Here’s what critics have to say:

  1. Potential displacement and unemployment within conventional farming (and related industries) are real concerns. Since 2000, global employment in agriculture has fallen year by year. There are about 1.2 million jobs in the U.S. beef and dairy industry, and by 2030, half of these jobs could become obsolete when lab-grown meat is scaled to become cheaper than traditionally farmed meat.
  2. It’s a myth that lab-grown meat is better for the environment because it requires less land and water while producing less greenhouse gas emissions. While it’s too early to quantify, the long-term emissions from lab-grown meat will be significant. The reasons for this include greenhouse gas emissions from the bioreactors used to house and maintain animal cells. The energy needed to purify the growing cell cultures is likely to be similar to emissions from similar biotechnology. In one study, researchers estimated that the climate impact of highly purified meat cultivation would result in carbon dioxide emissions between 250 and 1,000 kilograms for every kilogram of beef, which is not an insignificant amount.
  3. Scientists are raising questions about the potential negative impact on human health. Since lab-grown meat goes through a process of high-level cell multiplication (akin to what happens with cancer cells), some dysregulation is likely to occur. The effects of these cell and metabolic irregularities on human health and metabolism are unknown.
  4. Nutrient composition remains a question. It is still unclear whether lab-grown meat can supply the same levels of micronutrients and iron to the body.

Certainly, more research is necessary.

Taste test

A scientist wearing blue gloves holds a petri dish containing cultivated meat.

Proponents of lab-grown meat say it could reduce the occurrence of zoonotic diseases. (Image courtesy of Vic Katch.)

Testing individual preferences regarding taste is complicated because so many factors — texture, color, flavor, presentation, smell, and nutritional characteristics — determine these preferences. Moreover, taste preferences can be impacted by cultural influences. Social, economic, technological, and political factors also shape taste preferences, behaviors, and beliefs about what is deemed “acceptable.”

About 30 studies have directly surveyed participants about their willingness to try lab-grown meat. Though findings are mixed, overall acceptance of cell-cultured meat is relatively high, usually above 50%. Early research on taste preference yields positive reviews, although the research is considered weak-to-moderate.

Some taste testers cannot identify the difference between lab-grown and traditional meat. Others say the texture is slightly different or too dense. Another study reported that lab-grown meat is sweeter or more bitter than conventional meat.

Will you have a bite?

Food neophobia, the fear of trying new food, is considered a normal stage in child development and affects 50-75% of children. It generally occurs between the ages of 2 and 6 and eventually subsides with age. However, increasing research suggests that more and more adults are food-neophobic these days.

In preparing this article, I asked 10 of my meat-eating friends whether they would eat lab-grown meat. Their responses ranged from: “Why would I do that when I can get real meat?” to “Are you kidding me?” to “Meat is meat and it’s not grown in a lab!” and “Wow, I’d try it if it was smothered in stuff.”

I’m a plant-based eater, so I have no plans to add lab-grown meat to my diet. However, I will still sample it to see what it’s like.

Have you tried it? Will you try it? Let me know in the comments below.


  • Broucke, K., et al. “Cultured meat and challenges ahead: A review on nutritional, technofunctional and sensorial properties, safety, and legislation.” Meat Science. 2023;195:109006.
  • Cornelissen, K., et al. “Consumers’ perception of cultured meat relative to other meat alternatives and meat itself: A segmentation study. Journal of Food Science. 2023 Mar;88(S1):91-105.
  • Fraeye, I., et al. “Sensorial and nutritional aspects of cultured meat in comparison to traditional meat: Much to be inferred.” Frontiers in Nutrition. 2020 Mar 24;7:35
  • Hellerstein, E. “A million tons of feces and an unbearable stench: Life near industrial pig farms. “The Guardian. 20 September, 2017.
  • Jairath, G., et al. “Bioactive compounds in meat: Their roles in modulating palatability and nutritional value.” Meat and Muscle Biology. 2024;8:16992.
  • Jin, G., Bao, X. “Tailoring the taste of cultured meat.” Elife. 2024 May 30;13:e98918.
  • Lambert, E.G., et al. “Enhancing the palatability of cultivated meat.” Trends in Biotechnology. 2024 Mar 26:S0167-7799(24)00062-3.
  • Modern Meat: The Next Generation of Meat From Cells. Digital Manuscript. Update Sept, 2023.
  • Shi, W., et al. “Red meat consumption, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” European Heart Journal. 2023 Jul 21;44(28):2626-2635.
  • Tubb, C., et al. “Rethinking food and agriculture 2020-2030: The second domestication of plants and animals, the disruption of the cow, and the collapse of industrial livestock farming.” RethinkX. (2019).
  • Zhang, X., et al. “Red/processed meat consumption and non-cancer-related outcomes in humans: Umbrella review.” British Journal of Nutrition. 2023 Aug 14;130(3):484-494.


  1. Julie Maurer - 1982

    I commend you for giving voice to some of the criticisms of fake meat. The public needs a balanced discussion of the issue. I have a question and some criticism on the issue. Are any of the products under development actually made without any inputs? I’d heard that veal cells (young cattle) were needed as the scaffold.

    As someone who raises 100% grass-finished lamb, (on a small farm) I’m disappointed that all of the comparisons of fake meat to real meat use CAFOs as the real meat production method. CAFOs are indeed a nightmare, from pollution, to fossil fuel inputs, to animal health and welfare. Not so with grass-finished operations. Ruminant grazing actually increases the soil organic matter, sequestering carbon. Grazing buffalo created the deep, fertile soil of the great plains. Once established, no fertilizer or pesticides are needed. Antibiotic and other medications are rarely needed. The meat is higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and highly nutritious. I could go on, but you get the point. It’s extremely frustrating that the critics of CAFO meat production never mention alternative forms of animal agriculture, but constantly push fake meat, the health and environmental implications of which haven’t been evaluated.


    • Victor Katch

      Thank you, Julie, for your interest in my article. I congratulate you for being a climate champion-organic farmer. Of course, if possible, omnivores should always consume 100% grass-fed meat from producers who do not use fertilizers, pesticides, and hormones. The quality of grass-fed meat, grown on farms that do not “pen” animals is superior to CAFO-produced corn-fed meat and who restrict animal movement, in every way. However, my article aimed to introduce readers to the concept of lab-produced meat, not to compare this meat to different types of agricultural-produced meat. While we know there are nutrient-composition differences between organic-grass-fed meat, and penned corn-fed meat; we have little data comparing differences with lab-grown meat.


  2. Russell Lyons - 1983

    According to the article, “In one study, researchers estimated that the climate impact of highly purified meat cultivation would result in carbon dioxide emissions between 250 and 1,000 kilograms”. There appears to be an editing error: It should be a rate. It is per some number of kg of cultivated meat? Furthermore, it needs to be compared to other ways of producing meat.


    • Victor Katch

      Thanks for pointing out this error. It should read: ….”between 250 and 1000 kilograms for every kilogram of beef”.


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