#10things to chew on about cultivated meat growth

How will new technologies that give rise to the cultivated meat industry affect the agricultural sector and create economic benefits? Dr Paul Bartels, CEO and founder of Mogale Meat Co, who is also a wildlife veterinarian, weighs in.

How will new technologies that give rise to the cultivated meat industry affect the agricultural sector? Dr Paul Bartels, is the CEO and founder of Mogale Meat Co, a cultivated meat company, and also a wildlife veterinarian, and believes this new technology will complement, rather than replace existing farming and veterinary practices, giving rise to new economic opportunities.

The growing cultivated meat industry is about meat products grown from cells in a laboratory. While it’s unlikely that we’ll see lab-grown meat cuts on our supermarket shelves within the next decade or so, this new biotechnology does raise several questions for the veterinary industry, as well as for livestock farmers.

The South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) continually monitors scientific and technological developments that could affect our veterinary and para-veterinary professionals with interest. While SAVC as a regulatory body does not hold a position on the ethics or economics of cultivated meat, it believes sharing information about these emerging technologies will help enhance and add substance to the conversations around them.

These are the 10 things you should digest about the cultivated meat industry, according to SAVC, in conversation with Dr Bartels:

1. Cultivated meat is bio-identical to conventional meat: It is cultivated directly from fat, connective tissue and muscle cells taken from an animal and grown in a bioreactor – a laboratory apparatus used for growing organisms under controlled conditions.

2. There are a number of important benefits: Only the desired cuts of meat are produced, with the potential to vary the fat quantity and quality as healthier options for consumers; and it will reduce the harmful climate impacts of our current food system, as livestock produce more greenhouse gases than all the transport in the world combined.

3. Healthier outcomes for farming and supply chain: The risk of zoonotic disease and antimicrobial (antibiotic) resistance will be reduced.

4. There are key economic benefits: It will revive export opportunities for fresh meat that were lost due to disease outbreaks; It has the potential to feed more people with fewer resources; and it will yield new economic and employment opportunities, with people trained and upskilled in various science and engineering fields.

5. It requires 95% less land and water to cultivate than conventional livestock farming: Intensive meat production is problematic – from requiring substantial water use to clearing millions of square kilometres of natural habitat for producing fodder crops. It also results in rising animal and zoonotic disease outbreaks, requiring mass cullings, as well as antibiotic resistance.

6. Cultivated meat has the potential to increase meat production, without having to further transform natural habitats into fodder crops for intensive farming. Cultivated meat will protect our abundant biodiversity and address many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. South Africa has world-class livestock farmers, veterinary and para-veterinary professionals, and meat production systems that serve its people, as well as the meat export market.

7. There will not be any disruption to current livestock farming for many decades to come: More people need more meat, and it is that increased demand that can be met through cultivated meat. This means livestock and wildlife farming will continue with support from related industries, including the veterinary and para-veterinary professions.

8. Lab-grown meat will eventually be an affordable food option for South African consumers: Cultivated meat will most likely only become commercially available in the next 10 years in South Africa, as it largely depends on regulatory approvals and the cost of production. Current production costs are very high – although, as with any new technology, as scale-up takes place and product uptake increases, costs will drop.

9. There are definite opportunities for livestock veterinary and para-veterinary professionals: This new biotechnology industry will not take away any of the current livestock-animal health and meat-hygiene responsibilities.

10. It will open up new opportunities in multiple science areas: Veterinary science research and development will “converge” with other scientific disciplines, including biotechnology, biochemistry, chemistry, metabolomics (the study of small molecules), bioengineering, tissue engineering, process engineering, crop science, animal science, nature conservation, nutrition, and meat and food science.


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