Cellular Agriculture: A Stepping Stone to a Sustainable Future
The existential threat posed by the loss of biodiversity and climate change, the world’s population increasing rapidly, the challenges of the current agricultural production system are all requiring immediate action to transition towards a fairer, healthier and more sustainable food system.
Cellular Agriculture Europe was launched in November 2021 as a coalition of companies committed to playing their part in building a more resilient and sustainable future. Our members are entrepreneurs, innovators, and food lovers, who develop an alternative to the current production process of meat, fish or dairy products.
By growing cellular agriculture products directly from their building blocks, the cells, rather than the entire animal, cellular agriculture allows consumers to enjoy the qualities of the food they know, while transitioning to a sustainable food system, and also addressing the overuse of antibiotics, food and water safety, environmental footprint, and animal welfare.
What is Cellular Agriculture?
Cellular agriculture is the process of producing animal-based foods and other products directly from animal cells. The production process is based on the well-known “cell culture technology” that has been used in Europe for decades, for example for growing yeasts for bread baking or for the production of rennet in cheese. Beginning with a small sample of animal cells and nurturing them in a nutrient rich growth medium, the cells grow and develop into muscle, fat or other tissues to form meat and other animal products, without harm.
A future of benefits
The need for new sustainable protein production methods, as cellular agriculture, has been recognised by the European Union. The Farm to Fork Strategy refers to the €10 billion funds from Horizon Europe to be invested in research and innovation on “food, bioeconomy, natural resources, agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture, and the environment as well as the use of digital technologies and nature-based solutions for agri-food”
1, outlining that a key focus will be on scaling up the availability and sources of alternative proteins, including “meat substitutes”.
A recent study by CE Delft2 – the first ever to be based on data from cultivated meat companies – found that cultivating meat from cells could cut the climate impact of meat production by up to 92%. This is compared to an ambitious scenario for conventional animal agriculture in 2030 – where farmers manage to cut the carbon footprint of meat by 15% (beef), 26% (pork) and 53% (chicken). Compared with current average environmental impacts, the benefits of cultivated meat are even greater. Additionally, if the freed-up lands are used for rewilding or carbon sequestration, the positive climate impact could be even greater.
Moreover, cellular agriculture products can be produced in local facilities, whereas the EU, for example, is currently reported to be importing €3B in Brazilian beef associated with deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.3 Similarly, cultivated seafood can be produced everywhere and does not depend on access to specific bodies of water. This will also positively impact our resilience in a changing climate, reducing vulnerabilities in the supply chain as facilities could be built near consumer demand, be less susceptible to drought, flood, and wildfires and reduce dependency on global trade with less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of transportation of food from one place to another.
Last but not least, cellular agriculture presents a unique opportunity to improve both food safety and food security. As cultivated meat is produced without animal slaughter and under sterile, rigidly controlled conditions, the risks of chemical contamination, of spoilage and of foodborne and zoonotic illnesses from microbial pathogens like E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter and viruses are significantly reduced compared to the conventional production of meat.
A Powerful New Tool
To drive the inclusive transition to a sustainable and resilient future, we must collaboratively integrate cellular agriculture with animal agriculture and current food systems.
Cellular agriculture can be successfully integrated with current food systems through supporting and investing in local producers, empowering communities, and giving existing farmers or producers the opportunity to forge new revenue streams alongside conventional production. Incorporating ‘Just Transition’ practices while collaboratively integrating cellular agriculture with animal agriculture can ensure economic security and social equity for farmers or other producers as the sector transitions to become a more sustainable and nature balanced overall system.
1 COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, THE COUNCIL, THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COMMITTEE AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS A Farm to Fork Strategy for a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system
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