We know that all our PACK-feeding pawrents care deeply about what your dogs eat, and that includes the impact their food has on the planet and on other animals. We do too: it's why our founders Damien and Judy started THE PACK in the first place! We wanted to show the world that dogs can thrive on delicious, nutritious dinners without a sniff of animal meat.
But what if that meat was grown in a lab rather than coming from a slaughtered animal? Now that cultivated meat (otherwise known as 'lab-grown' meat) looks increasingly likely to come to market, it's time to ask whether you could – and, just as importantly, whether you’d want to – feed it to your dogs.
What Is Cultivated Meat?
Cultivated meat, often called ‘lab-grown’, ‘cultured’ or ‘clean’ meat, is protein grown from the cultured cells of an animal. The idea is that it will taste, look and smell identical to conventional animal meat: for all intents and purposes, it is meat! Yet unlike traditional steak, sausages, fish fillets and meaty dog food, it doesn’t involve the slaughter (and often poor welfare) of an animal. Nor does it involve the resource-heavy production process of animal farming and associated environmental damage, or the health risks like antibiotic overuse, contamination and high cholesterol.
So how exactly does this ‘cultivating’ process work? Well, in simple terms, stem cells are obtained from a few living animals via a muscle sample, or an egg, or maybe even a feather (without killing the animal). These stem cells are placed in enriched media (cell food) and fermented (like brewing beer!) until they grow into real meat cells, composed of the same genes, proteins and amino acids as their source tissue. Essentially, meat grown from a cell from a chicken feather is the same meat as regular dead chicken, just created in a different environment. While cultivated meat was initially grown in small laboratory settings, as the industry scales up production is expected to move to a large-scale process using bioreactors instead of petri dishes.
But when will we actually see these products on supermarket shelves? Cultivated chicken meat for human consumption has already made it to market in Singapore and it's likely that the US and UK will follow, UK-based cultivated meat organisations having received £28.55million in investment. In fact, a recent study suggests that by 2035 cultivated meat will make up almost a quarter of global meat consumption! Things have sped up as of last month, with two cultivated meat companies in the US now having received regulatory approval from the USDA and FDA.
Interestingly, cultivated meat producers can’t yet grow a steak, muscle or breast; only ground mincemeat-like products. In one sense, this makes it an obvious product for pet food (after all, our dogs don’t care what their dinner looks like) but it also has drawbacks for those used to feeding raw meat diets. For pawrents whose dogs love the texture of bone and muscle, cultivated meat isn’t yet going to offer a perfect replacement; in fact, we’d argue that high-quality vegan food like THE PACK can offer a more varied sensory experience. Nonetheless, American start-ups like Bond Pet Foods and BioCraft have been brewing up concepts for cultivated pet food for many years, while in the UK Good Dog Food, a joint venture between Agronomics and Roslin Technologies (you might remember the Roslin Institute for cloning Dolly the sheep), was founded in 2022. Good Dog Food are using Roslin’s animal cell line technology to develop cultivated chicken meat for dog food, using cells from a single sample of a chicken egg.
Is Cultivated Meat Vegan?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines veganism as “eating only food not derived from animals” so given that cultivated meat uses cells from animals or animal products, no, it's definitely not vegan. With animals still being used in the production process, cultivated meat doesn’t challenge the ideologies that allow exploitation of animals for human use; that is, we’re still presenting animals as ‘edible’, a consumable commodity. It’s even possible that using animals for meat with a ‘clean conscience’ will help maintain people’s cognitive dissonance around the origin of their food (or pet food), especially given cultivated meat won’t look like the animal it comes from. However, there are reasons why vegans might still support cultivated meat, for both human and companion animal consumption, even if we don’t need or want to eat it ourselves or feed it to our dogs. A recent study found that the majority of vegans and vegetarians (who wouldn’t consume cultivated meat themselves) would feed it to their pets.
It's an indisputable fact that humans, like dogs, are omnivores: we can survive, and indeed thrive, without needing animal meat in our diets. Yet despite increasing awareness of environmental and ethical issues with animal production and despite the huge range of delicious plant-based meat alternatives now available, the vast majority still eat meat and feed it to their pets. Whether they do so for perceived health benefits or for the taste, it's safe to assume that meat eaters aren't going to be stopping any time soon. Meanwhile, almost 83 billion animals (not including fish) are killed for food each year. So why not offer people real meat that comes without the slaughter and planetary destruction but with all the same taste, smell and nutrition they're used to? In his book Clean Meat, Paul Schapiro predicts that a piece of turkey muscle the size of a sesame seed could produce enough cultivated turkey to supply the global annual meat demand for more than two thousand years. That’s not a small reduction in animals used, it’s a greater than 99.99% reduction!
It follows that cultivated meat is also a promising option for companion animals who turn their noses up at plant-based pet food: carnivorous cats, for instance. It might well be a more ethical option for those currently feeding insect-based pet food; it must be better to use the cells from one living animal to create thousands of cans of pet food than to farm and kill billions of potentially sentient insects to feed our furry friends. Still, for pawrents of omnivorous dogs, an even better option is to leave animals out of the process altogether and stick to feeding delicious veg-based meals: after all, we know carrots aren’t sentient!
It’s also important to acknowledge that in the early development phase of cultivating meat, scientists used a product called foetal bovine serum (FBS) as cell food, a by-product made from cow foetuses. Obviously, this isn’t remotely ‘vegan’! While many companies have now switched or are switching to plant-based serums, the industry has yet to find an alternative as effective as FBS. Removing FBS from the process completely is a challenge the industry must address before we embrace cultivated meat.
Won't Cultivated Pet Food Be Super Expensive?
In a nutshell, yes. It's currently extremely expensive to cultivate meat. Because of that, the first products are likely to have very high price points, even dog food. Of course, many of us are happy to pay a premium for pet food; in fact, it's the trend for feeding 'human grade' meat that has caused pet food to make such a significant contribution to the destructive environmental and ethical impacts of animal farming. In the study mentioned above, pawrents’ main reservation about feeding cultivated meat was health and safety, but this was followed by price. While many might be willing to pay more for cultivated pet food, there are obviously limits, especially in today’s economical climate.
How Does Cultivated Meat Compare With Other Pet Food Ingredients?
We now know that meaty dog foods are a major player in climate change, global land and water use, and factory farming. But how does cultivated meat compare? Good Dog Food’s impact assessment claims that using cultivated meat in their dog food instead of conventional meat would reduce global habitable land use from 40% to 2%, fresh water use from 30% to 6%, antibiotic use from 70% to 0%, and animals slaughtered from 80% to just one. These are impressive stats, cultivated pet food potentially using less land and water than plant-based diets - and definitely less than insect pet food production, which is still relatively water-intensive. However, both insect and cultivated meat require a lot of energy to produce and that’s a major obstacle for the latter. If the industry can get rid of their expensive, energy-intensive ingredients and processes, cultivated meat’s global warming potential could be as much as 80% lower than that of conventional beef production! But this won’t be possible without significant technical advances. Until then, scaling up production of cultivated dog food actually has the potential to be more environmentally damaging than producing conventional meat…
Based on all the information above, if producers can solve current scaling challenges, cultivated meat feels like an interesting option for carnivorous pets like cats, who would otherwise need to eat conventional meat (or heavily supplemented plant-based food). But for omnivorous dogs? We've seen first-hand how well our pooches do on meat-free fare, so we see no reason to add animal meat back into their bowls, whether it comes from the slaughterhouse or the petri dish.
Would you feed cultivated meat to your dog? We'd love to hear your thoughts - drop us an email at email@example.com or tag us on social media at @thepackpet for Instagram and Threads!
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