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How is meat made in a lab?

Petri dishes with lab meat. It is a pink liquid in the bottom of the dish.
Kianna Haskin
Vermont Public
Five flasks filled with a pink mixture and growing meat cells sit in a lab.

How is meat made in a lab? That’s what 10-year-old Nate in New Jersey wants to know! Scientists have figured out how to grow meat in laboratories. Some hope lab-grown meat will be able to help address issues like global food insecurity, agricultural pollution and animal cruelty. But 5-year-old Lorenzo in California wants to know why people have to eat meat anyway? But Why visits scientist Rachael Floreani of the Engineered Biomaterials Research Laboratory at the University of Vermont to learn more about how and why lab-grown meat is being developed.

Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript

  • Around the world, meat consumption is on the rise. Raising meat animals takes a lot of resources, including land. Growing crops needed to feed these animals takes up land that could be used to grow food that feeds people. If we continue on the current trajectory, we’ll soon need to double the amount of land we use for raising meat animals.
  • For most of human history, humans have eaten meat from cows, goats, pigs, chicken and ducks. But advances in technology are giving scientists ways to grow meat–living animal tissue–in a laboratory. (This is different than plant-based foods that taste like meat.)
  • Some people hope lab-grown meat will be a solution to global food insecurity. They hope lab-grown meat can feed more people worldwide and be a solution to some of the environmental problems that come with large-scale livestock farming like water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and land use problems.
  • Other people think that the solution to those issues is for humans worldwide to eat less meat. 
  • Not everyone eats meat. Some people choose to be vegetarian for moral, cultural or religious reasons, and those people are not likely to eat lab-grown meat either. 
  • To make cultured or lab-grown meat, the first step is to remove a small amount of cells from a living animal. Then those cells are placed in a nutrient-rich liquid so they can divide and multiply.
  • The newly formed muscle cells are then placed on a structure that will help them grow even more. This scaffolding winds up looking like a sponge with meat on it. Yum! 
  • To make this lab-grown meat look and taste like familiar cuts requires putting it into a mold as it grows, and finishing it with spices and other flavorings.
  • There are only a few places in the United States where people can eat lab-grown meat. 
  • Questions remain about how this new meat will be labeled and even what it might be called.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.

But Why is a project of Vermont Public.

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