Just eight years before the Second World War, Winston Churchill  wrote the book Thoughts and Adventures where he contemplated the future identifying trends that would affect democracy, government, and society. In his essay “Fifty years hence” in 1931, he claims:
With a greater knowledge of what are called hormones, i.e. the chemical messengers in our blood, it will be possible to control growth. We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium. Synthetic food will, of course, also be used in the future.
Almost a century after these statements, cellular agriculture , the utilization of cell cultures to produce agricultural goods rather than production by farmed animals or crops, seems to be the future for the consumption of animal-based products such as meat, dairy, fish, seafood, or non-food products. Also, this food production technique is expected to greatly improve the environment and our lives. Non-pathogen contamination, no plastic in food, 80% less land use for meat, seafood and dairy production, and 76% less Greenhouse Gas Emissions are just some of the 90 reasons Kristopher Gasteratos  from Harvard University gives us to consider cellular agriculture.
In other words, cellular agriculture seems to hold answers  for many of our current—and future—problems.
A legacy of new conditions
The 20th century brought various long-lasting scientific innovations and discoveries for humanity. This was one of them. The emerging research field of agribiotechnology, or simply cellular agriculture , aims to produce agricultural products by culturing microorganisms, plant, and animal tissue. Nowadays methods are divided in two . The tissue engineering-based technique takes cells from living animals by biopsy which then will be treated to produce new useable tissue. On the other hand, fermentation-based cellular agriculture manufactures products by the fermentation from bacteria, algae or yeast that are genetically modified by adding recombinant DNA. There are already several start-ups that have ventured into both types of products: Every company, Pembient, Perfect Day or BiotechFoods are just some of them.
During the last century, the world experienced a myriad of events and processes—political, social, and economic—that shaped the way life unfolded. One result of this was global warming. Nowadays 18,4% of global greenhouse  gas emissions come from agriculture, forestry and land use. The temperature of the world has risen 1.2 ºC  since Churchill’s essay and heads are turning to science for a solution to this climate crisis.
Science as a tool
The advances in cellular agriculture in the last decades have been impressive. Disemboided Cuisine, a temporary project which produced cellular agriculture meat that could be eaten, was released in 2003, 10 years after the first “lab-grown burger”  was eaten in London. Now, in 2023, research in this area is focused—in many cases—on enriching the properties  of these products, making them more appetising and their mass production profitable.
There’s only one question left: ¿Why aren’t cellular agricultured products massively consumed? Because science provides tools, but no silver bullet. The high prices and lower quality of these products hinder commercial rollout to consumers.
It’s estimated that 1 kg of cell-cultured meat could cost $63/kg to produce in a large-scale facility  resulting in a treat that only a few adventurous eaters could afford. Also, lack of chewiness and inadequate flavour have been reported  as sensitive differences between cultured and natural meat. Additionally, there are other concerns like the use of animal serum—which comes from cattle—to give a nutritional medium for the cells to grow in the lab, which may trigger conflicts related to chosen diet of the potential consumers.
There’s some way to go before we watch Kristopher Gasteratos’s 90 Reasons come true. Almost a century has passed since Churchill foresaw the rise of cellular agriculture and yet it’s proving a challenge to introduce these products massively in the market worldwide. The ecological and climate crisis must be tackled by society with the help of the tools that science provides us with. While cellular agriculture holds immense promise, its full-scale adoption remains a work in progress. However, it offers an invitation to all of us: an invitation to join the journey toward a more sustainable and resilient diet—and future.
- Churchill, W. S. (1932). Thoughts and adventures.
- Rischer, H., Szilvay, G. R., & Oksman-Caldentey, K. (2020). Cellular agriculture — industrial biotechnology for food and materials. Current Opinion in Biotechnology, 61, 128-134.
- Gasteratos, Kristopher. 2019. 90 Reasons to Consider Cellular Agriculture.
- Jahir, N. R., Ramakrishna, S., Abdullah, A. A. A., & Vigneswari, S. (2023). Cultured meat in cellular agriculture: Advantages, applications and challenges. Food bioscience, 53, 102614.
- Stephens, N., Di Silvio, L., Dunsford, I., Ellis, M., Glencross, A., & Sexton, A. (2018). Bringing cultured meat to market: technical, socio-political, and regulatory challenges in cellular agriculture. Trends in Food Science and Technology, 78, 155-166.
- Lee, D., Kim, M., Jeong, J., Lee, Y., Yoon, J. W., An, M. R., Jung, H. Y., Kim, C. H., Ahn, Y., Choi, K., Jo, C., & Lee, C. K. (2023). Unlocking the potential of stem cells: their crucial role in the production of cultivated meat. Current research in food science, 7, 100551.
- Ritchie, H. (2020, 11 mayo). CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions. Our World in Data.
- Monitoring.Info@noaa.gov. (s. f.). Global Time Series | Climate at a Glance | National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).
- BBC News. (2013, 5 August). World’s first lab-grown burger is eaten in London. BBC News.
- Fraeye, I., Kratka, M., Vandenburgh, H. H., & Thorrez, L. (2020). Sensorial and nutritional aspects of cultured meat in comparison to traditional meat: much to be inferred. Frontiers in Nutrition, 7.
- Garrison, G. L., Biermacher, J. T., & Brorsen, B. W. (2022). How much will large-scale production of cell-cultured meat cost? Journal of agriculture and food research, 10, 100358.
- Joo, S., Choi, J., Hur, S., Kim, G., Kim, C., Lee, E., Bakhsh, A., & Hwang, Y. (2022). A comparative study on the taste characteristics of satellite cell cultured meat derived from chicken and cattle muscles. Food Science of Animal Resources, 42(1), 175-185.