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THE MORAL FACTOR: When can we eat cultured meat? It’s an ‘ingredient’ issue


Some in the industry are critical of the sale of any cultured meat created with Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS), which is harvested from unborn calves during the slaughter of pregnant cows.

CORIE BROWN: Production of cultured meat, created in a stainless steel tank, is happening in labs around the world. But producing it at a volume and cost where it fulfills the promise of replacing conventional meat is a hurdle that no startup has shown it can clear… One of the biggest challenges? Ingredients. You might assume that alternative proteins do not involve animal products, that their labels can include two very important words, “slaughter-free.” But when it comes to cultured meat, it’s complicated.

The easiest way to cultivate meat or fish is to take a few cells from a live animal and toss them into a bioreactor filled with a nutrient-rich broth — which is spiked with fetal bovine serum, or FBS, an expensive cell-growth stimulant harvested from unborn calves. (FBS typically is collected during the slaughter of pregnant cows.)

According to Maarten Bosch, CEO of the Dutch cultured meat company Mosa Meat, “everyone” started out using FBS. Once they got off the ground, however, cultured meat companies started to invest tens of millions of dollars and years of effort into developing replacements. Bosch says Mosa Meat has solutions to the FBS dilemma, a common claim across the industry. But no company in the fiercely competitive — and secretive — industry is sharing the details.

One San Francisco-based company has hustled an FBS-assisted product into restaurants — in Singapore. Eat Just, originally a plant-based alt-protein company founded in 2011, jumped into cultured meat early on. And founder Josh Tetrick has been running hard ever since to stay ahead of the pack of 80-plus cultured meat producers around the world…

“We continue to use FBS, though as little as possible,” says Tetrick, who adds that the company now has a replacement growth stimulant (and that’s all he’ll say) and is trying to get a new FBS-free chicken approved for sale in Singapore. “Consumers definitely want to eat meat without feeling bad about it. Some care more than others.”

Others in the industry are critical of the sale of any cultured meat created with FBS. “We are taking our time to do this right,” says Bosch. “No GMOs, no slaughter, meat that does not harm the earth,” he says. “In Singapore, you have a company that just wanted to be first”…

“Scaffolding” has been another stumbling block for an industry that wants to produce protein without any animal products whatsoever. Meat cells will naturally differentiate into muscle, fat and other animal tissues given the right bioreactor conditions, cultured meat companies say, but the cells need to adhere to something… Boston Meats started to work on finding a plant-based substitute for scaffolding, Chantre says, and now it has a solution — which it will not discuss.

Wildtype, a San Francisco-based company, is anticipating commercial sales of its cultured salmon — made without gelatin or FBS — as soon as next year… “We did not want to tell people our cultured fish is made with pig hoofs,” says Wildtype co-founder Aryé Elfenbein… Despite a collective $1.3 billion invested in cultured meat companies, it will be years before you will encounter an array of cultured meat and fish at the grocery store, but stay tuned. They could be available in select San Francisco-area restaurants next year. SOURCE…