The future for pet food: lab-grown meat

by Jonathan Lee (’22) | March 1, 2021

Over quarantine, as many families tried to fill the emptiness of their homes, a sudden surge of pet adoptions struck America. The rush to adopt pets has led to the development of a new consumer base: pet owners who are considering an environmentally sustainable diet for their furry companions. Particularly in the United States, the predicament of owning a pet circulates around diet. Most vegans and vegetarians are American citizens; in contrast, the most common house pets, dogs and cats, primarily rely on meat in their diets. This places many of these animal-lovers in a dilemma, as they are responsible for feeding their carnivorous pets daily.

A relatively new industry is being developed to avoid moral conflicts with owning these meat-eating animals: cell-cultured meat. By harvesting stem cells of animals such as cows, chickens, and (in this case) mice, laboratories can reproduce slabs of meat, creating guilt-free food for animals and humans. The animals that researchers use to collect stem cells are not affected, and this way, the animal can live without the fear of being devoured. The popularity of cell-cultured meat has increased significantly since its early promises in 2013. Since then, the growth of the cellular agriculture industry has only expanded, making the process more efficient and cost-effective through further development and funding. However, it was only recently that cell-cultured meat entered the pet food scene. As it solves the ethical issue for some vegetarian and vegan pet owners, many see cell-cultured meat as a new approach to produce faultless pet food. 

With companies Because Animals and Bond Pet Foods leading the charge in this new industry, recent approaches towards laboratory-grown meat have been somewhat different. Instead of serving the meat directly, Bond Pet Foods is looking to harvest chicken stem-cells and inject the important nutritional genes into brewer’s yeast, effectively serving “chicken” but at a lower cost and higher efficiency. Yeast cultures much faster than animal stem-cells and appears to be a great alternative to meat, as it still contains similar nutritional benefits. Bond Pet Foods hopes to have this finished product developed and on the market by 2023. On the other hand, Because Animals estimates that their product, containing actual cell-cultured meat, will be on the market by the end of this year. Although this sounds too good to be true, both firms will likely sell these products at premium prices.

Whether or not the meat will end up in an animal saucer, or a premium dish, the meat earns flying colors in terms of environmental sustainability and carbon emissions. According to Dr. Falconer, CEO of Because Animals, a kilo of cultured meat generates around sixteen times less carbon dioxide than the same amount of beef. Taking up far less space and resources, cell-cultured meat is far more sustainable than raising farm animals. As seen with products like plant-based meat, the price will not stop many environmentalists from purchasing and supporting these products. Eventually, the price will be driven below that of authentic meat with higher demand, successfully replacing meat with a more sustainable substitute.

Contrary to some humans, house pets are not too picky about what they eat. Generally eating dry kibble or wet foods, animals are much easier to please with cell-cultured meat in any form, rather than shaping the meat into something more appealing to humans. Animals aren’t usually fussy about the appearance of their food, so as long as the food is tasty, it will be devoured wholeheartedly. As possible future consumers of these products, it’s exciting to know that the meat being consumed does not harm the environment as much and the animal from which it is created will live without qualms.

Categories: Science

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