California Opens World’s Most Advanced Lab-Grown Meat Facility

Posted by Sama in Science and Technology On 20th December 2021
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Lab-grown meat is the solution to all the problems that we humans are facing collectively. From facing repercussions in terms of environmental damage due to raised carbon emissions to the transfer of parasites in form of zoonotic disease to the case of animal cruelty and human cruelty, it is a one-stop solution for all problems. In fact, Uma Valeti, the CEO of one such company in the US says that within five to ten years, cultured meat may well be as cheap, or cheaper, than farm-grown.

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Nowadays, because of the devastating impact of climate change on our world, thankfully, people are becoming more and more aware of the impact of their actions on our environment.

Now that there is more awareness regarding our environment, people are also becoming aware of the dangerous environmental cost of animal agriculture. Thus, there’s been a veritable explosion in the number of plant-based alternatives hitting the shelves, with some promising vegan “meat” that’s virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. One such company named Upside Foods is ready and waiting to serve up an even more authentic experience: real meat, but with none of the agriculture.

On Thursday, November 4, the company opened a vast facility in Emeryville, California – 16,154 square meters (53,000 square feet) of renewably-powered vats and tubes going by the name of the Engineering, Production, and Innovation Center, or “EPIC”. It’s been billed as the first of its kind, and the company says it’s ready to start producing 22,680 kilograms (50,000 pounds) of cultured meat for commercial scale – just as soon as it's legal in the US.

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As you all may know, the term lab-grown meat is referred to as verboten in the industry. The Upside Foods, a 'cultured meat company - headquartered in Berkley, California says:

“Our meat production method is inspired by nature’s basic principles: start with one cell and give it the proper nutrients to allow it to grow and multiply,”

The real inspiration behind this idea is the company’s CEO Uma Valeti’s history as a cardiologist: he was inspired to start Upside, he told The Economist, by “the idea of injecting stem cells into the human heart” to help it heal after a heart attack.

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“We're committed to completely detaching our production process from animal slaughter,” the company says. “Our aim is to bring animal component-free products to market as soon as we can.”

“The focus in the last five years for the industry has been really to show that the science works,” Valeti told Fast Company. “The next phase is all about how [to] bring products out of the lab into industrial scale.”

The facility however was unable to sell the meat till it gets its approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and FDA. Then only it will be open for tours and product testing from January.

Visitors to EPIC’s main room will find it lined with huge tanks called bioreactors, where cells harvested from live animals are bathed in a concoction of nutrients that will, science willing, grow them to a size suitable for a meal.

 

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“We feed the cell a range of nutrients (amino acids, sugars, trace minerals, and vitamins) normally found in food and compositionally similar to what develops organically in animal body, just in a different format,” explains the website of Upside Foods. The initial cells themselves are obtained via “a variety of methods,” the site says, including “biopsies from living animals, eggs, fishing, and recently slaughtered animals who were already a part of the food system.”

“We also expect that our cells will be capable of indefinitely self-renewing, so that we won't need to return to the animal for subsequent samples,” the company adds.

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Upside Foods is very open about its eco-friendly credentials compared to the traditional alternative: The website writes: 

“cell-cultured meat may require up to 90% less land and water, and emit up to 90% fewer greenhouse gases.” Research tends to agree: the benefits of cultured meat are “enormous,” found one analysis from April 2021; another from 2019 noted that switching to lab-grown meat could see “[greenhouse gas] emissions … fall by 78-96%, land use by 99%, water consumption by 82-96% and energy consumption by 7-45% compared to those from the conventional farming depending upon the type of meat.”

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This meat is ideal in every way, first, it could help reduce carbon emissions and can even potentially reverse them:

“instead of using larger land for the necessary agricultural crops required for livestock farming,” proposes the 2019 paper, “large areas could be released and redeveloped or used for other purposes such as carbon capture.”

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Most importantly, the advantages of lab-grown meat aren't limited to environmental benefits only, in fact, it puts concerns regarding the transfer of zoonotic diseases to rest too. Well, in the past few years, we all have been very much aware of these diseases, that is the pathogens that can transfer from animals to humans – and epidemiologists have warned that increasing livestock production increases the likelihood of new diseases emerging. Meanwhile, the ever-present use of antibiotics in the farming industry has hastened the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, creating a crisis that threatens to reverse decades of medical progress.

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Lab cultured meat provides a feasible solution to all these problems as it removes the issue of animal cruelty as well as human cruelty – workers in the meat and poultry industry lost body parts or needed hospital treatment every other day between 2015 and 2018.

Unfortunately for those who are waiting for this technology in action, currently there is only one place that is creating cultured meat and that is Singapore. However, if Upside gets regulatory approval, it’s set to be the first meat on the menu of fancy San Francisco restaurant Atelier Crenn since 2018.

Once Upside gets approval, Valeti says the landscape of meat production is likely to change rapidly and within 5-10 years, in fact, cultured meat may well be as cheap, or cheaper, than farm-grown.

“What’s happened in the last five years, is unlike anything that’s ever happened in the food industry,” Valeti said. “There’s nearly 100 companies across the world, in nearly every meat-producing and meat-consuming country, trying to do cultivated meat"

"That type of acceleration has never happened in food, especially for a completely new space.”

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