Because Animals’ mission is to create nutritious pet food without ever harming any animals or the environment. This is why we are hard at work to produce our cultured meat pet food. Easing our reliance on animal agriculture will have wide-reaching benefits to public health, the health of pets and other animals as well as the planet.
We know you have a lot of questions about what exactly cultured meat is, how it is grown and what it will look like. Here, in a Q&A with our CEO and co-founder, Dr. Shannon Falconer, we provide some of those answers. Shannon has a PhD in microbial chemical biology. She is also passionate about animal welfare and has spent over a decade volunteering in the animal rescue community.
Q: Let’s start at the beginning, what is cultured meat?
Cultured meat is meat grown without raising or slaughtering animals. It is grown in a way that is similar to an embryo developing in the womb, except that cultured meat begins with a small collection of animal cells that are grown in a nutrient-rich environment outside the animal.
Cultured meat has the same nutritional value and composition as animal-based meat. It is, in fact, meat. Though in contrast to traditional meat, our cultured meat is grown without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones; and without animal suffering and slaughter. And it doesn’t cause environmental damage.
Q: Is cultured meat vegan? Is cultured meat a meat alternative? Is cultured meat plant-based?
We get a lot of these kinds of questions and the short answer is: No. Cultured meat is not vegan, it is not plant-based, nor is it a meat alternative. Cultured meat is meat. But we totally understand the confusion! Let us explain.
The rise in plant-based meat alternatives is at an all-time peak. And many of these companies, such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, are producing plant-based products, such as burgers and sausages, that replicate the taste, look and texture of traditional meat.
As well, these companies exist for the same reasons that we do: To remove factory farmed meat from the food chain as doing so will have a massive and positive impact on the environment, it will stop the abuse of animals being raised and slaughtered for food, and it will greatly benefit public health. On these things we are aligned!
But we are not creating a plant-based, alternative meat product. We are growing (aka culturing) meat.
What is meat?
It helps to understand what meat actually is. All meat is simply a collection of animal cells. Meat in the traditional sense happens when these cells grow inside a body. But, when given the right nutrients, these cells can also grow inside a container we call a bioreactor. The end result in both scenarios is 100% meat.
Because Animals is making meat for pet food that is nutritionally identical to traditional animal meat. Here’s how we’re doing it:
- To start the process of growing our cultured meat we collect a small sample of animal cells. We do this in the most humane way possible to ensure no harm comes to the animal.
- From that sample we isolate the necessary cells and feed them a mixture of protein, vitamins, minerals and other necessary nutrients and then pop them into a bioreactor (it’s like a womb!) where those cells grow and divide to form a collection of tissue that is ultimately cultured meat.
- Harvest time! We simply collect the meat from the bioreactor and incorporate this meat into our nutritious recipes for treats and food for cats and dogs.
In short: Our meat is simply grown in a way that is different from the way traditional meat is grown. Our meat will be free of the common contaminants found in traditional meat. It also will not bring harm to the planet or to other animals.
Q: Why are you making cultured meat for pets?
More than a quarter of the environmental effects of factory farming are directly attributable to pet food. Factory farming is also a cruel and inhumane practice and we believe it has no place in pet nutrition.
Additionally, cultured meat provides a safer and more nutritious alternative to pet food made with animal-grown meat. For example, every year, the Food and Drug Administration issues recalls on pet food for reasons that include contamination by the animal euthanizing agent, pentobarbital.
Q: What specific kind of cultured meat are you going to produce for pets?
Earlier last year we successfully created the world’s first cultured meat pet food. Namely, we prepared a cat treat made from cultured mouse, mice being the ancestral diet of the cat. We are now hard at work scaling this exciting product. This will be followed by a cultured rabbit dog treat.
In addition to treats, we are developing nutritionally-complete foods for both cats and dogs.
Q: How do you grow cultured meat?
We feed the cells a mixture of protein, vitamins, minerals and other necessary nutrients. The cells grow and divide to form a collection of tissue that is ultimately cultured meat.
Q: How do you ensure that your process to grow cultured meat never harms any animals?
To start the process of growing our cultured meat we need to collect a small sample of animal cells. We do this in the most humane way possible to ensure no harm comes to the animal. After we collect the cells, we make sure the animals are safe and happy for the rest of their natural lives.
To grow our cultured mouse cat treat, for example, we rescued three mice from a lab where they were going to be used for research purposes and then euthanized. To obtain the small sample of skin, which was taken from their ears, we gave them a mild anesthetic so they would not feel any pain. A veterinarian performed both of these procedures.
These three cuties now live in a large, homemade hutch made by one of our scientists and they are very well cared for, and adored, by her and her family. This is where they will live out their days. (Since they were born into captivity, only to be tested on by researchers, there is no natural habitat or wild to return them to.)
Q: And what about the controversial Fetal Bovine Serum (FBS)? Do you use it?
Because Animals does not use FBS, which involves the inhumane practice of extracting blood from pregnant cows at slaughter. Because Animals has developed an animal-free proprietary media that provides the nutrients and growth factors needed for tissue to grow all without the requirement of FBS.
Q: What will the meat look like?
One of the key differences between meat grown as an animal and meat grown via culturing is that, in the latter case, there is no bone present for cells to adhere to. In an animal, muscle cells anchor onto bone, which provides support and structure. Instead of our cultured meat looking like a chicken wing or steak, our meat has a closer resemblance to hamburger meat. Or, since we’re making pet food, it’s also reasonable to say that our cultured meat looks more similar to what you might already be used to finding inside a can of cat food.
Q: When can I buy this exciting product?
We will send you updates along our path of development — we want you to be a part of this journey! We’ll be able to share a more accurate timeline in the months that follow, but as a starting point, please mark down on your calendar that Because Animals will be releasing a limited batch of cultured mouse cat treats in mid-to-late 2021!
Q: How much will your cultured meat pet food cost?
Customers can expect to pay the same price for our cultured meat pet food products as they’re currently spending on other premium pet food items.
Q: Finally, what do you most want consumers to understand about cultured meat?
First, that cultured meat is real meat. And, second, we totally understand what a new concept that is to wrap one’s head around!
For that reason, we have taken a slow and steady approach to introducing our pet products — for example, our supplement and dog cookie — containing more conventional cultured ingredients, such as probiotics and nutritional yeast. This eases the customer into the world of cultured foods with ingredients they’re already familiar with.
And, it’s why we will always be transparent and honest about our creation of cultured meat. We think it’s so important to bring customers along on the journey with us so they understand and feel completely comfortable with our process. And we encourage you to shoot us questions anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.