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Our Health

How Could Cultivated Meat Affect Our Health?

Cultivating meat could impact public health issues such as foodborne illness, antibiotic resistance, diet-related disease, and zoonotic illnesses.

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Food Safety Regulation

Government agencies will oversee cultivated meat production. In the U.S., the USDA and FDA will jointly regulate meat cultivation.

In the United States, the FDA and USDA will regulate cultivated meat production.

In the European Union, the European Food Safety Authority will regulate cultivated meat.

In the United Kingdom, the Food Standards Agency will regulate cultivated meat production.

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Diet-Related Diseases

Cultivated meat would likely have similar health effects as conventional meat. Consuming high amounts of meat would still be associated with chronic diseases, like heart disease and diabetes.

However, health outcomes will depend on the nutritional profile of cultivated meat and the amount of total meat consumed.

It will take long-term epidemiological studies to reveal any positive or negative health impacts associated with dietary changes over time.

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Less Foodborne Illness

Cultivated meat has a lower risk for contamination than conventional meat. It will be less likely to cause foodborne illness.

Cultivated meat is grown in a sterile environment, reducing its exposure to potential pathogens that cause illness. Pathogen exposure is unavoidable in slaughterhouses.

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Decreased Pandemic Risk

If meat cultivation were to decrease the number of animals in industrial farms around the world, the risk of zoonotic pandemics and epidemics could decrease.

Some pathogens can pass from animals to humans. Crowding lots of animals together increases disease risk. Cultivating meat reduces the need to confine large numbers of animals.

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Little to No Antibiotic Use

Cultivated meat production is unlikely to use antibiotics. This would help keep antibiotics effective for humans.

Widespread use of antibiotics in animal agriculture is contributing to antibiotic resistant bacteria.[9] Cultivated meat is produced under controlled conditions within a sterile environment, so production may not require antibiotics. This would help preserve effective antibiotics for use in human healthcare.

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Similar or Better Nutrition

Cultivated meat will have the same or similar nutrients as conventional meat. Over time, producers might cultivate meat with optimized nutrients.

The first cultivated meat available is nutritionally similar to conventional meat. Some producers are working to improve the nutrition of meat. For instance, producers could cultivate meat with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids or antioxidants.

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Our Health 101

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Food Safety Regulation

Government agencies will oversee cultivated meat production. In the U.S., the USDA and FDA will jointly regulate meat cultivation.

icon health w1.png

Heading 4

In the United States, the FDA and USDA will regulate cultivated meat production.

In the European Union, the European Food Safety Authority will regulate cultivated meat.

In the United Kingdom, the Food Standards Agency will regulate cultivated meat production.

gradient box.png
icon health 4.png

Diet-Related Diseases

Cultivated meat would likely have similar health effects as conventional meat. Consuming high amounts of meat would still be associated with chronic diseases, like heart disease and diabetes.

icon health w4.png

Heading 4

However, health outcomes will depend on the nutritional profile of cultivated meat and the amount of total meat consumed.

It will take long-term epidemiological studies to reveal any positive or negative health impacts associated with dietary changes over time.

gradient box.png
icon health 2.png

Less Foodborne Illness

Cultivated meat has a lower risk for contamination than conventional meat. It will be less likely to cause foodborne illness.

icon health w2.png

Heading 4

Cultivated meat is grown in a sterile environment, reducing its exposure to potential pathogens that cause illness. Pathogen exposure is unavoidable in slaughterhouses.
gradient box.png
icon health 5.png

Decreased Pandemic Risk

If meat cultivation were to decrease the number of animals in industrial farms around the world, the risk of zoonotic pandemics and epidemics could decrease.

icon health w5.png

Heading 4

Some pathogens can pass from animals to humans. Crowding lots of animals together increases disease risk. Cultivating meat reduces the need to confine large numbers of animals.
gradient box.png
icon health 3.png

Little to No Antibiotic Use

Cultivated meat production is unlikely to use antibiotics. This would help keep antibiotics effective for humans.

icon health w3.png

Heading 4

Widespread use of antibiotics in animal agriculture is contributing to antibiotic resistant bacteria.[9] Cultivated meat is produced under controlled conditions within a sterile environment, so production may not require antibiotics. This would help preserve effective antibiotics for use in human healthcare.
gradient box.png
icon health 6.png

Similar or Better Nutrition

Cultivated meat will have the same or similar nutrients as conventional meat. Over time, producers might cultivate meat with optimized nutrients.

icon health w6.png

Heading 4

The first cultivated meat available is nutritionally similar to conventional meat. Some producers are working to improve the nutrition of meat. For instance, producers could cultivate meat with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids or antioxidants.

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Our Health 201

 

Regulation and safety assessments

Government agencies will oversee the production of cultivated meat.

Around the world, each government’s regulatory agency will oversee cultivated meat production. So far, the US, the EU, Singapore, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand have begun to determine the regulatory process.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will jointly regulate cultivated meat.   (See more detail below.)

In the European Union, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will apply the Novel Foods Authorisation to regulate cultivated meat.    In the United Kingdom, the Food Standards Agency will regulate cultivated meat production, and producers will go through an authorization process very similar to the Novel Foods Authorisation in Europe.

In Singapore, a regulatory framework specific for cultivated meat production has been established by the Singapore Food Agency.   In December 2020, Singapore approved the world’s first cultivated meat product — a chicken nugget manufactured by Eat Just.   The approval was aided by the establishment of an independent panel of experts to assess the product’s safety.

The Food Standards of Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) has declared that cultivated meat would be captured within existing standards in their Food Standards Code and will be assessed under the Novel Foods Standard.

In the U.S., the FDA and USDA will jointly regulate the production and distribution of cultivated meat.

For beef, pork, and poultry, the FDA will regulate meat cultivation from cell collection until harvest. This is because meat cultivation is similar to the tissue culturing processes in the pharmaceutical industry, which the FDA currently oversees. From harvest through packaging and sales, the USDA will regulate the process. For fish and seafood, the FDA will oversee the entire process.   This is because the FDA currently regulates seafood production.

The FDA and USDA have outlined the basic protocols they’ll use to assess the safety of cultivated meat.

First, the FDA will administer a pre-market consultation of a production facility. This means that before the cultivated meat product reaches the market, the FDA will inspect and approve the place where it was made.

The FDA will regularly evaluate [cell sampling] methods, [cell lines and cell line repositories], [sterilization procedures], and the elements used for actual production, such as [growth media], [cultivators], scaffolding, containers, and more.   Beyond food safety, the FDA will also oversee product labeling.

When cultivated meat is harvested and ready to be packaged, the USDA will take over safety inspections. These may be daily inspections, similar to inspections as conventional meat production facilities. Like the FDA, the USDA will also ensure accurate labeling.

Production facilities will have a number of safety and sterilization methods.

Cultivated meat will likely be produced in centralized systems that allow tight control over conditions and monitoring.

Prevention protocols would include:

  • ensuring initial cell lines and growth media are free of contamination

  • sterilization of cultivators and piping in between batches

  • automated processes

  • monitoring systems

At the point of harvest, end-batch testing will be conducted. End-batch testing could involve:

  • checking for potential contamination

  • testing the nutritional composition

This testing will ensure that the safety prevention protocols were effective. Traceability measures would provide further safety assurances.

Foodborne illness

Cultivated meat production has less exposure to pathogens than conventional meat production.

Exposure to pathogens like Salmonella, Campylobacter, Listeria, and E. coli results in food safety concerns and recalls for meat. Conventional meat is frequently exposed to these intestinal pathogens at the slaughterhouse. This is one of the reasons it is important to handle raw meat carefully and cook it adequately before eating.

Cultivated meat is much less likely to be contaminated because production occurs in a closed, sterilized system in which bacteria and other microorganisms cannot easily enter. The production method also permits cultivated seafood to be free of heavy metal contaminants, such as mercury. End-batch testing will be important for ensuring batches of meat are free of contaminants and meet the desired nutritional composition

Because of the low risk for contamination, it’s possible that cultivated meat wouldn’t spoil as quickly as conventional meat.   Similarly, it’s also possible that raw dishes, like beef tartar, would be safer with cultivated meat. However, any meat has some degree of contamination risk, so safe handling and cooking of cultivated meat will still be important.

Antibiotics

Cultivated meat production will probably use fewer (or no) antibiotics relative to conventional animal agriculture.

Cultivated meat is produced under controlled and sterile conditions, the need for antibiotics is low to none.

Antibiotic resistance and the spread of superbugs (bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics) are increasingly a cause for public health concern. Widespread use of antibiotics for non-therapeutic uses has raised issues about conventional animal agriculture and its contribution to antibiotic resistance.

In the United States, 99 percent of conventional meat is produced in concentrated animal feeding operations, or ‘CAFOs’. In these conditions, antibiotics are commonly used to prevent and treat infections among animals living in close quarters.    However, not all conventional production uses antibiotics. Organic animal agriculture, for instance, prohibits the use of antibiotics except as a last resort for a sick animal.

“No antibiotics used in production” would be a selling point for cultivated meat, and several companies have stated that they will not use antibiotics in production. Since cultivators will be sterilized between batches, the need for antibiotics is low. In addition, use of antibiotics could negatively affect the growth of cultivated muscle cells.      Controlled conditions, management of batches, monitoring tools, and traceability measures would help make this possible.

Given the production system, it is unlikely that cultivated meat producers will use antibiotics. Accordingly, meat cultivation could drastically reduce the total amount of antibiotic use in meat production.

Diet-related chronic diseases

Cultivated meat may not be better for human health, unless cultivated meat companies prioritize developing products with specific nutritional profiles.

Meat consumption in general is associated with a number of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease,    cancer,      type II diabetes,    and high blood pressure.

In developed nations, protein consumption well exceeds dietary need.    So if people eat the same or more total meat (whether conventional or cultivated), chronic diet-related diseases would likely remain a public health concern.

However, in some developing nations where sources of protein are scarce, cultivated meat could improve public health.

Optimized nutritional profiles

Some cultivated meat companies are developing products with optimized nutritional profiles, like cultivated meat with no saturated fat. Research efforts are also underway to develop products with reduced cancer risk, with proof-of-concepts showing the possibility of products with increased antioxidants.    By consuming cultivated meat with a better nutritional profile, it could be possible to lower the risk of some diet-related diseases associated with high meat consumption, such as heart disease.

Long-term health effects of cultivated meat consumption

The technology used to develop cultivated meat has been around for decades in the medical and pharmaceutical industries. The FDA & USDA will assess product safety and provide approval before cultivated meat products reach the U.S. market. Ongoing testing at production facilities will also ensure safety and quality. However, only long-term epidemiological studies will show a definitive answer in terms of positive or negative health impacts.

Risk assessments are highly personal. People must weigh for themselves the potential benefits and potential risks, much like we do for new medicines.

Zoonoses and pandemics

Zoonoses are infectious diseases that pass from nonhuman animals to humans.

Zoonoses can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi. When spread throughout the world, zoonoses are classified as pandemics. Zoonoses with pandemic potential are usually viruses.

Infectious disease in nonhuman animals can spread to humans by:

  • Handling or consuming wild animals infected by a virus.

  • Handling or consuming livestock infected by a virus. Original exposure is also typically from a wild animal, but viruses rapidly spread and mutate among livestock hosts.

Animals raised for food are typically housed in groups by the thousands, in facilities where viruses can spread quickly among the population. Viruses are highly adaptive and can mutate into new strains that can pass from animals to people, and then spread person to person.

Examples of zoonoses:

  • HIV

  • Avian (Bird) Flu

  • COVID-19

  • Ebola Virus Disease

  • Mad Cow Disease

  • Middle East Acute Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)

  • Nipah Virus Infection

  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

  • Swine Flu

If human reliance on animals for food decreases, the risk for zoonoses may also decrease.

Cells from both wild and domesticated animals can be cultivated to produce meat and materials, thus reducing the need to rely on animals for food.

Wild animals

Experts believe that the current COVID-19 pandemic was caused by human interaction with wild animals. The exact origin of the virus is still being traced. However, scientists believe it originated with bats and passed to humans through an intermediary species at a “wet market” in Wuhan, China.

Meat cultivation may eventually be a safer method for obtaining meat and materials from wild animal species. Targeted efforts to cultivate species that have a higher risk of infectious disease transmission could reduce human interaction with infectious wild animals. This in turn could mitigate health risk to humans.

Domesticated animals (livestock)

Other pandemics, such as the 2009 H1N1 swine flu and the H5N1 bird flu, are thought to have emerged in large pig or poultry farms. These large farms are known as CAFOs, short for concentrated animal feeding operations. They house thousands of animals in tight quarters and produce 99 percent of the meat in the US. Large numbers of animals in crowded living conditions make it easy for viruses to spread and mutate.

The H5N1 bird flu is currently spreading across poultry farms in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.    While spread to humans has been limited mainly to those who have handled birds directly, the H5N1 has a high mortality rate of 60 percent.    Bird flus are thought to present a high pandemic risk if strains mutate to easily pass to humans.

Eventually, meat cultivation could become more efficient than conventional animal agriculture. This could be a driving factor that decreases the number of CAFOs used for meat production, which would decrease the risk of pandemics.

Nutrition

Some companies aim to develop cultivated meat with an identical nutritional profile as conventional meat, while others are exploring options for cultivating meat with a better nutritional profile.

The nutrient content of cultivated meat will vary depending on the type of meat, the growth media, and the maturity of cells at harvest. This is similar to conventional animal agriculture—where the specific breed, feed, and age can affect the taste and nutrients of the end meat product. Some companies aim to develop cultivated meat with an identical nutritional profile as conventional meat, while others are exploring options for cultivating meat with a better nutritional profile. For example, cultivated meat could potentially be made to have higher amounts of omega fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals, or made to have lower amounts of saturated fat or cholesterol.

Hormones

Hormones generate cell growth, whether those cells are growing in an animal or in a cultivator.

Some people have expressed concern that the hormones in the cell’s growth medium may pose health risk. Growth medium contains nutrients (glucose, vitamins, minerals) and growth factors (including hormones) to stimulate the same processes that occur within an animal. In conventional meat production, including organic meat production, nutrition for cells—including glucose, vitamins and minerals, as well as hormones produced by the animal—circulate throughout the animal’s body in order for the animal to grow.

Hormones are a necessary part of all cell growth—whether this growth occurs in a cultivator or inside an animal. For these reasons, consuming cultivated meat would have the same implications as consuming conventional meat.

Cell line stability

A natural part of cell replication is genetic change.

Cell line safety assessments will likely be a key aspect of regulatory approval. Changes to cell lines may naturally arise as the original cells replicate over and over in large scale production systems. Some have raised concerns that genetic changes to cells used in meat cultivation could have unanticipated effects on human health.       However, others note that cell lines would be monitored for safety and efficiency, and any cell lines with undesirable changes would be removed from production.    In addition, meat produced with cell lines that have changed genetically over time would not be harmful to eat. This is because cells, whether they are from conventional meat or cultivated meat, are not alive at the time of consumption or digestion.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

References

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