Biden Backs Lab-Grown Meat

U.S. President Joe Biden has said that his administration is formally backing biotechnology, which includes new developments such as lab-grown meat.

In an executive order, Biden said that the U.S. government is dedicated to investing in biotechnology that will advance the U.S.'s food security, with the documents acknowledging the promise of "cultivating alternative food sources" and "looking to improve food security and drive agricultural innovation through new technologies...[including] foods made with cultured animal cells."

biden lab meat
Stock images of lab-grown meat (left) and Biden (right). In a new executive order, Biden has announced his plans to invest in biotechnology, including lab-grown meat. iStock / Getty Images Plus

Lab-grown meat is considered to be the future of meat production in the face of climate change.

Traditional cattle and other livestock farming produce a huge amount of carbon dioxide during the supply chain, in addition to the methane released by the animals themselves in their burps. Methane is also a greenhouse gas and traps more than 25 times more heat per molecule than carbon dioxide.

"The global industry is on the cusp of a revolution powered by biotechnology," said a senior administrative official in a press conference announcing the executive order.

"Analyses and facts suggest that, before the end of the decade, engineering biology holds the potential to be used in manufacturing industries that account for more than one third of global output. That's equivalent to almost $30 trillion in terms of value."

Lab-grown meat has been cultivated in a lab by growing animal cells into fully developed tissues. No animals have died—or been farmed—in the process of making it.

According to the Good Food Institute, this so-called cultivated meat is made by growing animal stem cells in bioreactors at high densities and volumes, which are fed with an oxygen-rich cell culture medium made up of basic nutrients such as amino acids, glucose, vitamins and inorganic salts. This is supplemented with proteins and other growth factors.

The bioreactor changes the composition of the culture medium in synchronicity with changes in the structure of the scaffolding that the cells are growing on, leading the cells to develop into muscle, fat and connective tissue, just as they would in a growing animal.

Depending on the type of meat being grown, this process can take between two and eight weeks.

Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of lab-grown meat company Eat Just, Inc., said to FarmProgress: "America has an opportunity to lead the world in building a new, healthier, and more sustainable approach to making meat.

"It's critical for our food security, for our manufacturing and technology base, and for our moral leadership. I applaud this week's bold move by the White House."

However, it's uncertain if the climate impacts of the lab-meat biotechnology industry will lead to fewer emissions overall: a 2019 study from the University of Oxford warned that the energy used to grow meat could release more greenhouse gases than cattle farming.

"In some scenarios, cultivated meat had a higher global warming effect, and in some scenarios a lower effect, depending on consumption levels, expected energy use for cultivated meat and the beef cattle system it was compared to," Pelle Sinke, a researcher at Netherlands-based sustainability consultancy CE Delft, told Science Focus.

"[There's] the possibility to use that land for plant-based protein production, nature and extra renewable energy production, which in turn influences the CO2 emissions of cultivated meat," Sinke said.

The new initiative also plans to invest in other biotechnologies that will help to combat climate change.

"This order [also] aims to reduce the impact of climate change on America's families and workers, including through replacing foreign petrochemicals with locally produced bio-based chemicals, using biofuels to cut greenhouse gas emissions, developing soil microbes and crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere," said another senior administration official at the press conference.