Entrepreneurs and government regulators are busy creating a product that could save millions of animals from the horrors of factory farming. But there’s one problem—they don’t know what to call it. It has been called “lab-grown meat,” “cultured meat,” “clean meat,” and “in-vitro meat,” but it all comes down to meat produced from cell cultures.
The process is simple enough to explain. Scientists harmlessly gather a small number of cells from an animal (e.g., a cow or chicken), place them in a structure called a “scaffold” embedded in a nutrient mixture, and allow the cells to multiply to create the final product. One startup says it can produce 80,000 beef burgers from a cell sample the size of a sesame seed. Experts predict that products of this nature will hit grocery store shelves within the next five years
The hard part seems to be agreeing on what to call this new product before that happens.
Compassion recently provided comments to a request from the USDA in advance of its rulemaking recommending that products of this nature be henceforth known as “cultivated meat.”
In determining a common-sense label for these products, different names were assessed on three criteria: clarity, neutrality, and palatability. Terms like “cell-cultured” and “in-vitro” meat are clear about the production process, but from The Good Food Institute (GFI) finds that these terms make potential consumers think more about laboratories and experiments than food, making the product unpalatable. “Lab-grown,” while true in the early testing phases, would not accurately describe production at a commercial scale which would look more like a brewery or a factory. Names like “clean” or “pure” meat are likely not descriptive enough for consumers to understand the product at first glance. While “clean” meat has been well-received by research subjects, it carries too much bias for regulatory purposes. “Cultured” meat is accurate and fairly neutral, but the word is already used to refer to the bacterial fermentation of foods like yogurt and cultured butter. Some found that participants thought “cultured meat” was meat that had been salted, cured, or fermented, causing confusion.
Meanwhile, the label “cultivated meat” has several strengths that cannot be ignored. The word makes clear how the meat was produced, and it does not hold any strong positive or negative connotations. In addition, the word “cultivated” draws parallels to traditional farming—in which land is “cultivated” and plants are nurtured and harvested. This creates more familiar associations with food and farming for potential consumers, rather than with laboratories and experiments. In a recent GFI poll, 75% of companies in the industry prefer the term “cultivated” for their products.
As the USDA ponders a name, one thing is sure: this new product could provide an alternative to intensive animal agriculture; producing less pollution, lower greenhouse gas emissions, fewer zoonotic disease outbreaks, and reduced animal suffering. Be on the lookout for cultivated meat at your local grocery store or restaurants in the coming years. We hope it’s as good as it sounds.