It may be a while before consumers can purchase cell-based products, but the technology is firmly on the radar for David Newman and other livestock producers.
“We are very keenly aware of it,” says Newman, a producer from Missouri and president of the National Pork Board. “Everyone in agriculture is talking about it extensively.”
The technology utilizes cells from live animals to grow meat products in a lab setting. Several companies are working on the technology, and others such as Cargill have invested in research.
Most agree consumer access to cell-based products is at least a couple of years away. Newman says once the technology improves and becomes more affordable, consumers will determine its success.
“The marketplace will let everyone know if cell-based products are going to be successful,” he says. “Our item only has one product, and that’s pork. Consumers are very conscious about clean labeling, and the list of ingredients with cell-based agriculture is tremendously different from the meat humans have been eating for thousands of years.”
Kristopher Gasteratos believes the marketplace can support both traditional meat and cell-based products. He is the found and president of the Cellular Agriculture Society, an organization based in Florida that helps promote research for the growing technology.
Gasteratos is a former student and researcher at Harvard University. He began working in cell-based agriculture four years ago after doing research in a tissue engineering lab.
“We realize this is something that could affect the livelihood of many in agriculture,” Gasteratos says. “It is difficult to have this kind of conversation.”
He says his group’s priorities include increasing world meat demand, improving animal welfare, lowering contamination risk and better sustainability. More information can be found online at https://www.cellag.org/.
“To me, there seem to be more arguments for transitioning to this (cell-based agriculture),” Gasteratos says.
“It’s very naive to think this will fix every problem, and it’s too early to know how it will affect the traditional farming industry. In my eyes, we are all on the same team for animal agriculture.”
Danielle Beck would disagree. She serves as senior director of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
The NCBA was among many groups that worked to make sure the USDA was more heavily involved in the oversight of both the technology and labeling for plant- and cell-based products.
Beck says while meat products are inspected by FSIS inspectors on site daily, there is not the same intensity of oversight with the new alternative proteins.
“We want to make sure they are held to the same high standards that we are,” she says.
Beck says there are several start-up companies competing for funding, adding more transparency needs to be involved with these companies as research and development of cell-based products continues.
Gasteratos says the cost of the cell-based technology is decreasing as research and development continues.
“We are working to make sure the R&D continues to grow and that we get the product at the level we need it to be,” he says. “We need to make sure it complies with regulations, and of course it has to be accepted by the consumer.”
Newman says at the moment, affordability is a big issue for cell-based products. But, he says those costs are likely to come down as the technology develops.
Consumer acceptance is uncertain, Newman adds.
“Is this a long-term trend or a fad?” he says. “Are these alternative proteins going to take some space in the meat case? It’s definitely something everyone in our industry is going to be monitoring closely.”