Frequently Asked Questions
Find an answer to the most commonly asked questions that people have about the field of cellular agriculture.
Any product that comes from an animal can be produced using cellular agriculture, including meat, leather, eggs, milk, silk – the list goes on!
Today, many companies in cellular agriculture are focussed on producing food products, such as beef, chicken, pork, fish, shrimp, as well as dairy milk. The technology is being used to bring many new products to market. Check out our Companies and Labs Directory to see a list of Australian organisations working in the space.
Eggs and dairy milk are currently being produced through precision fermentation (acellular agriculture). These ‘acellular’ products (i.e. they don’t contain cells) are mostly made of water, proteins, fats, and small amounts of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
For example, cow’s milk is made up of proteins (like casein and whey proteins) and fats (like triglycerides and phospholipids), among other macromolecules. We can take the cow genes that code for these specific proteins and fats, and insert those genes into yeast cells (this is called recombinant gene technology). Those yeast cells then become tiny micro-factories that develop the exact dairy proteins and fats produced by the cow. This process eliminates the need to raise and milk cows for dairy production.
This technology has already been applied in the food and pharmaceutical industries. Rennet, a set of enzymes traditionally extracted from calves’ stomachs, is used in cheesemaking. Today, precision fermentation, or acellular agriculture, is used to produce rennet more efficiently, cheaply and humanely.
The same process is used to create medical-grade, biocompatible insulin for diabetic patients. Instead of harvesting thousands of pancreases from animals to extract insulin, the pharmaceutical industry uses genetically modified yeast cells to create human insulin.
Cultivated meat requires a few things before it will be widely available – firstly, it must be able to be produced and sold at a reasonable cost, and secondly, it requires regulatory approval to ensure it can be safely manufactured and delivered from producer to consumer. In Australia, many businesses are making rapid progress on reducing their production costs, and cultivated meat products are likely to be ready for market in the near future. Regulatory approval has not yet been granted outside of Singapore (which recently approved the sale of cultivated meat in restaurants), but FSANZ in Australia is aware of the field of cellular agriculture and anticipates working with companies to approve products.
Cellular agriculture products such as cultivated meat and seafood will be regulated by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).
Food Frontier is a local think tank working to bring government and industry together to ensure Australian and New Zealand regulatory frameworks support a prosperous industry for new food products and market entrants.
Yes! An up-to-date list of cellular agriculture companies and academic laboratories working in Australia can be found here.
Cellular agriculture lies at the intersection of the stem cell research industry and the agricultural sector. Australia happens to be global leaders in these two fields of science and innovation. This means we are uniquely placed with the knowledge and infrastructural assets to cultivate and expand the existing cellular agriculture community in Australia.
Cellular agriculture products are natural – they’re made of the exact same muscle, fat, and connective tissues as their conventional, farmed and wild caught counterparts. As with all innovations in agriculture, cellular agriculture harnesses modern knowledge and technology to produce the food we know and love more efficiently. Unlike industrialised animal agriculture, cellular agriculture can produce food and biomaterials without negatively impacting our planet, human health, or animals.
Cultivated meat will taste just like real meat, because it is real meat. One of the first to try cultivated chicken from Eat Just, served in the restaurant 1880 in Singapore said last December “This chicken, it’s just chicken, but it’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen or ever tasted.”
Meat is primarily made of muscle, fat, and blood cells, organised in a scaffold of structural proteins, whether it’s conventional meat or cultivated meat. The major difference is the way in which the meat is produced.
One of the many benefits of cellular agriculture is that there is complete control over the final composition of muscle, fats, and connective tissue – meaning producers can produce meat that tastes just as good (or better!) than farmed meat.
Yes, cultivated meat will go through the same food safety regulatory process (by FSANZ) as any other food produced in Australia. Singaporean food regulators have already shown their confidence in the safety of cultivated meat, having approved Eat Just’s cultivated chicken for sale in December 2020, the first approval globally.
- Cultivated meat does not require any added antibiotics as used in raising livestock. This is because cultivated meat can be produced in facilities that comply with strict industry standards, unlike farmed animals, which are vulnerable to infectious diseases from birth to death.
Cultivated meat will be free of any added growth hormones that are typically used in the livestock industry to unnaturally increase the size of animals. Rather, cultivated meat will be produced by culturing the animal cells found in meat using a nutrient-rich broth (called cell culture media) containing growth factors (molecules which tell the cells what to do).
Since we have complete control over all the nutrients that go into cellular agriculture products, we can customise our food to suit our preferences.
Cellular agriculture provides us with the flexibility to make meat and seafood as healthy and delicious as we want. We can reduce the amount of unsaturated fats (or increase the amount of healthy fats) and increase the amount of proteins, vitamins and minerals, without sacrificing taste or texture of our food. This flexibility means the health and taste properties of cellular agriculture products will be up to consumers’ preferences.
Cultivated meat and other cellular agriculture products (such as egg and dairy) will have similar packaging, storage and handling requirements as conventional animal products. Food safety, packaging, and labelling will be regulated by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.
To produce cellular agriculture products (like meat and seafood), producers do not need to use genetic modification, but some may as it can safely increase the nutritional and taste profile of the food. For consumers who don’t want their products to be genetically modified, several companies have committed to not using GM methods such as Mirai Foods and Mosa Meat.
For products made through acellular agriculture, such as dairy and eggs, companies use precision fermentation (a form of genetic modification) to produce specific proteins and fats; these end products are free of any of the modified genetic material (DNA).
More information about GMO’s.
It is currently unclear what cultivated/cell-based/cultured meat will be called once it hits supermarket shelves. ‘Cultivated meat’ and ‘cell-based seafood’ are terms currently widely accepted within the industry. However this may change as more market research is undertaken.
Cellular agriculture is a field that is broad in scope, just like the traditional agriculture industry; it needs engineers to help design the manufacturing facilities, and farmers to breed the perfect animals to provide cells for expansion and to grow the crops for media production. It will also need technicians to run the facilities, marketers to build consumer relations, and of course scientists to perform research and leverage that knowledge within companies to design and improve products.
For more information, check out our free ‘Pathways into Cell Ag’ online tool.
That’s great – you’re in the right place! Check out our ‘get involved’ page to do exactly that. The cellular agriculture industry has a huge scope to get involved directly or indirectly.
Cellular agriculturalists have diverse expertise, drawing from backgrounds such as stem cell scientists, biotechnologists, bio-process engineers, automation engineers, industrial pharmacists, food scientists, and packaging technologists. People in these roles can directly get involved in developing cellular agriculture products. For example, cellular agriculturalists are currently developing cell lines for a variety of species and optimising their performance both generally and in specific products – find out more in our ‘Pathways into cell ag’ page.
Professionals from non-STEM backgrounds such as chefs, designers, research and media communicators, marketing campaigners, and food-retail chains will also have a crucial role to play in consumer education, marketing, supply-chain and distribution to bring cellular agriculture products to consumers.
Cultivated meat is made from animal cells just like conventionally farmed meat, whereas plant-based meat is made from plants.
Plant-based meats are great products for replacing farmed meat, but are made primarily with plants processed to taste like meat. Cultivated meat is meat on a fundamental level, as it is composed of animal cells just like farmed meat.
In the future of food, both will have a place as excellent sources of protein and other important nutrients, with different appeals to different consumers.
Many life cycle assessment (LCA) studies have been done to estimate the resource use and waste production for cultivated meat, but there are not yet studies for cellular agriculture products other than meat. At present, these studies are only the best-guess for likely production parameters (Scharf et al, 2019).
A recent review of LCAs (Scharf et al, 2019) found that, compared with standard U.S. beef production practices, cultivated meat could reduce:
- land use by >95%
- greenhouse gas emissions by 74-87%
- nutrient pollution by 94%
How cellular agriculture products will compare to traditional methods in energy and water use is currently less certain. The driving motivation behind many cellular agriculture companies is to make animal products more sustainable, so it is expected there’ll be a constant effort to improve sustainability practices and production efficiency.
Santo (2020) provides a graphical summary of many LCAs of cellular agriculture products compared to conventional for water use, greenhouse gas emission and land use.
Cultivated meat is technically not vegan according to the Vegan Society, as it involves the use of an animal product – though changes to the definition may occur once the technology matures.
Cultivated meat can be halal if the source of the cells comes from an animal slaughtered in a halal manner (Hamdan, 2018).
Opinion is divided on what conditions need to be met for cultivated meat to be Kosher, with some rabbis arguing that the cell source must be from a ritually-slaughtered (shekhted) animal (Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union’s Kosher Division). Others claim that the product is so far removed from the source that it cannot be considered forbidden (Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Director of Tzohar’s Jewish Ethics Center in Israel). Extrapolating this argument, cultivated pork and other traditionally non-kosher foods could be kosher! (Source).
Some cultivated meat companies may pursue a strategy wherein they periodically harvest cells from a living animal via a harmless biopsy, and isolate the stem cells for expansion, thus requiring some upkeep of animals. However, given the importance of animal welfare within cultivated meat companies, these animals are much more likely to be kept in high welfare conditions.
Other cultivated meat companies such as Shiok and Memphis Meats have asserted that they plan to make their cells indefinitely self-renewing, or ‘immortalised’, meaning that they won’t have to go back to the same animal source to harvest cells
Language is always evolving as new circumstances arise, which can change the meaning of words. When soy milks arrived on the market, consumers weren’t confused about whether soy plants had mammary glands, and with veggie burgers, consumers adapted to burger meaning the shape and use of the food, and not what it was made of. Cultivated meat is meat down to the level of DNA, and to call it anything else would be deceptive.
Cellular agriculture is a versatile technology for producing food, allowing customisation of the product like how much fat the meat or milk will have, which will give consumers more choice. Some companies such as the Shojinmeat Project and Future Meat are aiming for a future where cellular agriculture is democratised: consumers will be able to produce their own food and customise it themselves.
Since cultivated meat isn’t yet available, acceptance may shift once influential factors such as taste, price and popularity are accounted for (Bryant and Barnett, 2018).
Research on consumer acceptance of cellular agriculture products shows mixed results – interest and acceptance seems to be highly dependent on the description of the cultivated meat and the phrasing of the question asked of participants, as well as whether the sample was representative of the population (Bryant and Barnett, 2018).
- Scharf, A., Breitmayer, E. and Carus, M. Review and gap-analysis of LCA-studies of cultured meat for The Good Food Institute, 2019.
- Santo, R., Kim, B., Goldman, S., Dutkiewicz, J. Biehl, E., Bloem, M., Neff, R. and Nachman, K. Considering Plant-Based Meat Substitutes and Cell-Based Meats: A Public Health and Food Systems Perspective, 2020
- Bryant, C. and Barnett, J. Consumer acceptance of cultured meat: A systematic review, 2018
- Hamdan, M., Post, M., Ramli, M. and Mustafa, A. Cultured meat in Islamic perspective, 2018