Cell-cultivated Meat

Cell-cultivated meat, also known as cultured meat, lab-grown meat, and in vitro meat, is a meat alternative created by harvesting cells from an animal, such as a cow, and growing them in a bioreactor.1 Cell-cultivated meat was first approved for sale in Singapore in 2020.2 In the United States (US), premarket review and approval for the sale of cell-cultivated chicken were granted for two companies in 2022, and on June 30, 2023, the US Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) followed suit, approving the sale of cell-cultivated chicken, as well as requiring that the product be labelled “cell-cultivated chicken.”1 Despite these approvals, there are still many hurdles and unknowns relating to cell-cultivated meat production.


A general overview of the production process is provided below:

Cells/tissues are harvested from an animal. Embryonic and adult stem cells are commonly used to produce cell-cultivated meat due to their ability to proliferate and differentiate (process of stem cells maturing into a different, more specialized cell type).  

Procured cells are placed in a culture medium in order to grow. These media can include various components to affect cell growth and characteristics (e.g., substances to add nutritional value). Culture media often contain fetal bovine serum (FBS), though FBS has several downsides, such as high costs and differences between batches. Some products need to attach to a scaffold in order to grow, with more structured foods requiring sturdier scaffolds.

Cells are placed in bioreactors, which “are closed, automated systems that contain culture media and allow for precise control over biologically relevant variables, including physical (e.g., temperature), chemical (e.g., oxygen concentration), and biological (e.g., cell density) conditions”3 to proliferate. After proliferation, scientists alter conditions in the bioreactor to begin cell differentiation and ensure that the cell differentiates into the desired cell type.

The cell-cultivated product is harvested from the bioreactor, with any extraneous components being removed.

The product undergoes food processing to mimic meat products. At this stage, additional components, such as binders, food additives, or flavors, are added to blended/hybrid products that do not consist entirely of the cell-cultivated product.3

It is important to note that production processes vary from company to company,3 and information concerning the production process, as well as empirical data, are often confidential.3–6 As such, researchers face difficulties in conducting research on the impact of cell-cultivated meat production on the environment5 and the nutritional and sensory aspects of cell-cultivated meat,7 and potential problems with the production process, such as sources of contaminants, may not be identified.4 

Similarities to conventional meat

The processes of slaughter and aging affect the qualities of meat (e.g., flavor, tenderness, texture), and it is unclear to what extent cell-cultivated meat can mimic these processes and achieve the desired outcomes. Texture is especially difficult to emulate, particularly for thicker, structured meats (e.g., steak, pork chops). Ground meat products are more attainable with the current technology.7

Overall, research on the nutrition of cell-cultivated meat is needed. It is unclear if the protein content of cell-cultivated meat is similar to conventional meat. Cell-cultivated meat may lack fatty acids, minerals, and other nutritional compounds, and it is not known if the uptake of certain, essential nutrients (e.g., vitamin B12, zinc) in cell-cultivated meat is similar to that of conventional meat.7


In the US, cell-cultivated meat production is jointly regulated by the FDA and FSIS. The FDA oversees the cell development processes. FSIS oversight beings at the food processing stage. The FDA is solely responsible for the oversight of cell-cultivated seafood products.1

Although the FDA and FSIS employ regulations and assessments to ensure the safety of cell-cultivated products, the potential for hazards and food fraud remains. Hazards can impact any step of the production process; examples include inputs of allergens into the culture medium or during food processing, the presence of infectious agents in the animal or animal-derived components (e.g., FBS) that are then introduced to the culture medium, and the presence of antibiotics in the animal or culture medium, which could lead to antibiotic resistance.3 Antibiotics are not necessary for cell-cultivated meat production, and some manufacturers may avoid their use if they work in sterile, controlled environments. Additionally, if antibiotics are used early in the process and at lower concentrations than animal farming, it is less likely that antibiotics will be present in the final product.3 Bacterial contamination, such as with Salmonella or Escherichia coli, appears to be less likely to occur with cell-cultivated meat production, compared to conventional meat, but it is still possible.3,5 The closed environment of bioreactors can help protect against contamination from various sources.3

Food fraud entails the adulteration, counterfeiting, simulation, or tampering of a food product. Examples include using conventional meat in a cell-cultivated meat product or labeling a product as sourced from Wagyu beef when it contains non-Wagyu sourced cells. Establishing authentication standards for cell-cultivated meat could help prevent potential food fraud.6


Research on the environmental impact of cell-cultivated meat production is mixed, demonstrating its potential to emit more greenhouse gases and use more energy and to emit less greenhouse gases and use less energy; the outcome depends upon a variety of factors, including the type of conventional meat being compared to cell-cultivated meat production. Data also differs based on study methodology. Additionally, since cell-cultivated meat is not produced on an industrial scale, many studies evaluating its environmental impact are hypothetical.5

Due to a lack of information on processes and materials, complete and consistent life-cycle assessments (LCAs) on cell-cultivated meat production have not yet been conducted. LCAs evaluate each step of a product’s production process to determine its environmental impact. The lack of complete LCAs makes it impossible to draw conclusions on the environmental impact of cell-cultivated meat.5

Bottom Line

The cell-cultivated meat industry is still in its infancy, and much more research and development needs to be done to fully understand its potential impacts on health, nutrition, and the environment. While the industry shows promise, it has yet to be proven whether cell-cultivated meat will ever become a feasible, accessible, and equivalent alternative to conventional meat. 

  1. Benson LS, Greene JL. Cell-cultivated meat: an overview. Congressional Research Service. 19 Sep 2023. https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R47697. Accessed 1 Feb 2024.
  2. Woodyatt A, Wiener-Bronner D. Singapore becomes first country to approve lab-grown meat. CNN. 2 Dec 2020. https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/02/business/lab-grown-chicken-intl-scli-scn/index.html. Accessed 1 Feb 2024.
  3. Ong KJ, Johnston J, Datar I, et al. Food safety considerations and research priorities for the cultured meat and seafood industry. Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf. 2021;20(6):5421–5448. 
  4. Olenic M, Thorrez L. Cultured meat production: what we know, what we don’t know and what we should know. Ital J Anim Sci. 2023;22(1)749–753.
  5. Rodríguez Escobar MI, Cadena E, Nhu TT, et al. Analysis of the cultured meat production system in function of its environmental footprint: current status, gaps and recommendations. Foods. 2021;10(12):2941.
  6. Mariano EJ, Lee DY, Yun SH, et al. Checkmeat: a review on the applicability of conventional meat authentication techniques to cultured meat. Food Sci Anim Resour. 2023;43(6):1055–1066.
  7. Fraeye I, Kratka M, Vandenburgh H, Thorrez L. Sensorial and nutritional aspects of cultured meat in comparison to traditional meat: much to be inferred. Front Nutr. 2020;7:35.  

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