The vegetarian and vegan mainstream is widening. Is there room in there for "clean meat"?


We don’t take a position, but we have been fascinated by the rise of veganism over the last few years - observing those adopting it at close hand in our own families and networks, and noting how it’s a kind of activism (in defence of sentient animals and the planet) which is personal, expressive and attractive.

For those who confess they still love the experience of meat in their diet, but who accept the ethical critique coming from vegans, a solution is being offered: so-called “clean meat” (meaning a “meat substitute” that does not involve the slaughter of an animal). reports on a two-day “Good Food” conference where day one was about plant-based meat and day two, cell-based meats. The first day included brands like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat - who use materials like beetroot juice to mimic the blood from a real-meat burger, or isolate “heme” (the compound in blood’s hemoglobin) from plants and put it in their clean-meat products. Pat Brown of Impossible: “Give them meat, give them milk, just make it out of plants. Make it delicious and cheap and they will buy it.”

Karen Dawn reports on the second day:

Incredibly, Winston Churchill envisioned that world back in 1931. In a piece titled “Fifty Years Hence,” he predicted: “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing.”

We are behind time but on track. Meat grown from cells is currently being produced by Memphis Meats, and by all accounts the burgers and fish fillets are indistinguishable from those that come from slaughterhouses and environmentally catastrophic fishing nets.

One problem: The burgers produced by Memphis Meats currently cost about $1,000 a pop. But company founder Uma Valeti is a glass-half-full kind of guy, who cheerfully noted that the first serving of his meat cost a million dollars to produce; in just six years the price per serving was “one thousand fold lower!”

Josh Tetrick of the plant-based food company JUST gives a timeline of ten to fifteen years for the new meats to be “the only thing on the menu rather than an option.” To make that happen, he urges producers to focus on two vital areas: taste and price. Tetrick has a good record on both. JUST mayonnaise, entirely plant based, is now in supermarkets from Safeway through Walmart, and has replaced a household name in mayonnaise at Compass, the largest food-service company in the United States.

In response to the burgeoning clean-meat movement, the animal agricultural industry is trying to claim ownership, through legislation, of the word “meat.” Groups, including not just alternative producers but also the ACLU, are fighting the effort.

The response to “clean meat” from those in the vegan movement is mixed - particularly on the cell-based variety. This piece from ThoughtCo investigates how lab-grown meat is currently developed - and killing animals, however much reduced, still seems to be involved:

Although the number of animals affected would be greatly reduced, laboratory-grown meat would still require the use of animals. When scientists created the first laboratory-grown meat, they started with muscle cells from a live pig. However, cell cultures and tissue cultures typically do not live and reproduce forever. To mass-produce laboratory-grown meat on an ongoing basis, scientists would need a constant supply of live pigs, cows, chickens and other animals from which to take cells.

According to The Telegraph, "Prof Post said the most efficient way of taking the process forward would still involve slaughter. He said: 'Eventually my vision is that you have a limited herd of donor animals in the world that you keep in stock and that you get your cells from there.'"

Furthermore, these early experiments involved growing the cells “in a broth of other animal products,” which means that animals were used and perhaps killed in order to create the broth. This broth is either the food for the tissue culture, the matrix upon which the cells were grown, or both. Although the types of animal products used were not specified, the product could not be called vegan if the tissue culture was grown in animal products.

Later, The Telegraph reported that pig stem cells were grown "using a serum taken from a horse fetus," although it is unclear whether this serum is the same as the broth of animal products used in the earlier experiments.

ThoughtCo also asked if this process - translating plants into meat in the lab, rather than in the field - would be remotely as efficient as feeding plants directly to people themselves.

The debate is on.