Assessing Factory-Grown Cultured Meat

By on June 29th, 2017 in Environment, Human Impacts, Magazine Articles

Figure 1. Designers Erik Addison, Luke Morey, and Grant Parrinello (not affiliated with this research) developed a marketing campaign for a hypothetical cultured meat product called Supermeat [13] that featured a cowboy as a spokesperson. Supermeat concept by Humanoid Design 2010.

On August 5, 2013, a prototype sample of cultured, or in vitro, meat was tasted at a well-publicized event in London [1]. This hamburger was not grown in an animal, but rather from bovine stem cells in Dr. Mark Post’s laboratory at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. The event may foreshadow a day when traditional livestock production has given way to large-scale growth of meat in factories, or carneries. Dr. Post has suggested that commercialization of cultured meat could be ten to twenty years away [1]. The implications are profound. By some accounts the technology could reduce the environmental impacts of meat production [2], promote human health by eliminating harmful contents such as saturated fats and pathogens [2], address global hunger issues [3], and alleviate the ethical concerns associated with industrial livestock operations [4]. However, technologies powerful enough to address such significant challenges often come with unforseen consequences and a host of costs and benefits that seldom accrue to the same actors. In extreme cases, they can even be destabilizing to social, institutional, economic, and cultural systems [5].

Emerging engineering techniques have enabled the growth of animal muscle and fat cells, as opposed to the traditional process, which requires the raising and slaughtering of a whole animal.

This investigation seeks to complement ongoing technical research efforts in two ways. First, a more balanced consideration of the impacts of in vitro meat (IVM) will be sought in the areas where potential benefits are already well-publicized. This will include unintended and potentially negative consequences for human health, the environment, global hunger, and ethics. Second, the implications for seemingly remote, but still coupled, systems will be explored. That is, as shown in Fig. 2, the complexity inherent in the world ensures that changes in food production technologies could have repercussions far beyond the selection of foods sold in the grocery store. The repercussions will modify norms in environmental, economic, and social domains in ways that have not yet been considered in prevailing scientific analyses or public discussions. A better understanding of the potential implications of cultured meat could serve to facilitate effective decision-making as the technology becomes commercialized.

Figure 2. Systemic representation of meat production. Note that environmental, social, and economic systems are highly interdependent and neither the factors included here nor the arrows representing causal links should be considered exhaustive. Based on [12].


To address these goals, distinct environmental, economic, and social analyses are being performed. This article is a report of findings from a social assessment consisting of three expert focus groups, or workshops, held on the campus of Arizona State University in the spring of 2013. These workshops each brought together 6-8 scholars with expertise in a number of areas including law, journalism, agriculture, environmental engineering, tissue engineering, technology and society, and emerging technologies. These diverse groups were asked to qualitatively explore the possible social ramifications of IVM at all scales, from personal to systemic.

Cultured Meat

Meat consists primarily of skeletal muscle and fat cells in varying proportions. Emerging engineering techniques have enabled the growth of these cells in vitro, as opposed to the traditional in vivo process which requires the raising and slaughtering of a whole animal. A number of in vitro cultivation methods have been proposed, but perhaps the most promising [6] begins by extracting adult stem cells from a donor animal tissue sample (the animal remains otherwise unharmed). These stem cells are then submerged in a nutrient broth that enables the cells to grow, divide, and increase in mass.

Even though Dr. Post believes that the process could be scaled up for commercial meat production in perhaps 10–20 years [7], he has also stated that challenges still exist in terms of ensuring quality and safety of the final products [8]. One of these is the need to develop and optimize synthetic (animal-free) nutrient growth media. Another is the need to design production facilities that ensure all cells receive sufficient nutrients and oxygen (cells will die if they are more than 0.5 mm from a nutrient supply for a significant period of time [6]). In order to impart a familiar and acceptable texture, carneries must also promote cell exercise. Absent exercise, meat grown in vitro could be “weak and textureless” [9]. Additional challenges associated with IVM commercialization include the high cost of production [10] and the “yuck” response elicited by some individuals [11]. While these factors are certainly not trivial, the goal of this investigation is to assess the possible social consequences of this technology; therefore, we assumed that all of the aforementioned challenges had been overcome and that cultured meat had all but replaced traditional, agricultural meat by 2050.

Social Assessment Workshops

The series of workshops was designed to create a space for discussing the broader aspects of cultured meat, and to encourage a creative interplay of ideas from diverse perspectives. Prospective workshop participants were identified based on their research expertise and its relevance to the goals of this investigation. The workshop invitations included an article that provided an overview of the technology in question [9], but most participants had little to no prior knowledge of cultured meat. The workshops themselves lasted approximately 3 hours and began with a high-level briefing that described the research goals as well as cultured meat and the underlying technology. For the purposes of the workshops, participants were asked to imagine that a shift toward ubiquitous factory meat production would be largely complete by 2050. The briefing was followed by participant introductions, a moderated group discussion to encourage creative synergy, and a role-play session where participants were invited to choose a character (i.e,. doctor, lawyer, high school student, etc.) and describe the world of 2050 from that person’s perspective. This was followed by time allotted for participants to complete a written questionnaire aimed at capturing information that may not have been verbalized during the discussion, but was still considered important to the respondent. Notes were taken during the discussion portion of the workshop by a dedicated note-taker who wrote down quotes that could be used to illustrate the nuances of the ideas discussed, but did not identify the speaker in order to preserve anonymity. Hence, the workshops encouraged a dynamic, spontaneous flow of ideas that drew on participants’ personal and professional knowledge and linked the technical and social aspects of the technology. The resulting novel and vivid future scenarios were captured in the workshop notes and participant questionnaires.

This hamburger was not grown in an animal, but rather from bovine stem cells.

Participants in each workshop were asked to discuss how a transition away from agricultural meat in favor of ubiquitous cultured meat might affect five aspects of U.S. society: food in general, human health, family and education, culture and ethics, and general demographics. While the United States was the focus of the workshops, participants were also invited to comment on a sixth category, global development. Discussions were not limited to these areas, however. Participants were asked to inform the researchers regarding the variables they felt would be most significant or important as tissue engineering techniques develop. Further, discussions of economic and environmental impacts were not discouraged, though participants were informed that studies of economic and environmental variables were being accomplished via alternative methods.

The data collected from the workshops should be interpreted as future scenarios for consideration and discussion only. The complex nature of technological development and its interactions with other systems preclude the ability to accurately assess causal relationships and make deterministic predictions. Moreover, the participants were predominantly American scholars. Their views are thus not representative of a global population, or even all American cultural groups. Nonetheless, the results presented here are meant to introduce novel information to discourses and decision-making around cultured meat development and commercialization.


The discussions during the three workshops did not result in a unified prediction of social changes that will accompany a transition from slaughtered meat to in vitro meat. But that was not the goal. Instead participants discussed a wide variety of possible futures. Some of the vignettes described could occur simultaneously. In other cases it was clear that only one of the options could happen. Participants did not spend a large amount of time debating the likelihood of specific changes. Rather stories were built as a group – with one person positing a possibility and others contributing facts or suggestions that developed a broader picture of the original idea. This section does not exhaust everything that was discussed, but outlines some of the common themes that arose.

Adoption and Consumption Decisions

Even though factors influencing cultured meat adoption were not a focus of the research, the workshop groups often could not help but speculate about future diffusion patterns. In general, people expected an uneven global adoption rate and thought that Americans and Chinese would be open to the technology much more than Europeans. In Europe, participants said, people are more concerned with the source of their food whereas, in the United States, food is already highly modified and processed, with a very tenuous connection to the natural source. Even in the case of meat, they said, the shift to an “unnatural” product has already happened. It was further speculated that a lot of Americans “wouldn’t even know the difference” between cultured and real meat. Others thought that cultured meat would appeal to Americans’ attempts to remove themselves from the animal. As one participant noted, “People don’t want meat that looks like meat necessarily. We want it to appear sterile, wrapped in plastic, in the grocery store.” On the other hand, a few people expressed dissenting opinions and suggested that, not only do Americans eat a substantial amount of natural food, the amount of processing required for production of cultured meat would inhibit people from eating it even if they are eager to try novel foods. The “yuck factor” associated with cultured meat could play an important role in its acceptance.

The “yuck factor” associated with cultured meat could play an important role in its acceptance.

Additional factors associated with adoption were religion and identity. Some participants thought that religious rules about food would probably remain. Some even foresaw religious groups with extensive rules about meat – like Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism – to playing a role in resistance to in vitro meat. One participant stated, “Religions (e.g., Hinduism) that consider the cow to be one of their goddesses will not like the idea of their god being produced or created in petri dish[es].”

In general, American values and cultural myths became a prominent point of debate in one of the workshops where, as one participant pointed out, if the narratives surrounding cultured meat oppose an important myth or cultural value, as with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Europe, adoption could be arrested. For example, Americans value independent farming; therefore, a perceived further erosion of Jeffersonian Agrarianism or elimination of the cowboy might dissuade Americans from adopting cultured meat. However, another participant countered that our society has historically been through many shifts in agricultural practices, particularly with respect to labor: “Shifts associated with cultured meat would not be very different from what we have seen in the past, and would be unlikely to influence cultured meat adoption. In fact,” the participant said, “the cowboy is already a myth, along with the family farm. Neither of these lifestyles exists anymore, yet their stories persist in romanticized form. Myths remain incredibly stable in the face of constant cultural flux and generally do not prevent social change.” The panelists felt that cultural touchstones will likely be used in the discussions around in vitro meat in the future – in fact the cowboy myth has already been used in futurist projects on the topic (see Fig. 1) – but exactly how they are used and which configurations will become predominant is unclear.

In addition to traditional cultural myths, panelists also identified emerging values that could play a role in the future adoption of IVM. One participant speculated that the consumers of 2050 “will be more concerned about the sustainability of the food industry than the current generation.” Hence the perception of cultured meat as both sustainable and humane could contribute to its acceptance by the next generation.

Cultural Effects

Just as cultural values will almost certainly influence the adoption and development of cultured meat, the technology will likewise impact cultures and religions. Specifically, one participant thought that cultured meat might shift both secular and religious lifestyles, enabling the “spread of neo-Buddhist systems and increasing the romanticization of nature and animals.”

Additional questions arose around traditions and ceremonies involving preparing and sharing meals, particularly if cultured meat requires less preparation. On this point, however, many foresaw adaptation: “Cultural norms would adapt to accommodate it – Thanksgiving would still occur, but with cultured turkey.” Moreover, participants imagined that food-based traditions and rituals such as potluck dinners would continue to draw people together in much the same way in 2050. One argued that “they will serve as an opportunity to eat with like-minded people, i.e., a group of vegetarians… or people who want to eat meat from animals.”

Coevolution of Food and Food Preferences

At the core of all focus group discussions were perceptions and expectations for how cultured meat will appear when it reaches restaurants and grocery stores. Participants imagined variations in quality and type of IVM products, from commodity “vat” meat constituting nothing more than a basic protein source, to specialized luxury and designer products (e.g., “Atkins®-Approved Slim-Meat”) with a corresponding range of prices. A number of participants concurred that meat of the future would be significantly altered due to greater flexibility in production methods, with variable characteristics including nutrients, flavors, textures, exotic and extinct species, species mixtures, and even products grown from human stem cells. It was further suggested that cuisine diversity would lead to inevitable pushback and desire for “natural” food products, opening up new markets as animals are raised on a small scale or hunted to appease “meat purists.”

While some participants expressed concern that people would miss eating meat off the bone, others highlighted human adaptability. For example, “growing meat in an aseptic environment and testing it for pathogens and parasites could result in meat that does not need to be cooked. This could lead people to develop a taste for tender meat that does not need to be exercised as much.” Another suggested that, “while 40 years is too short of a timeframe for significant change to take place, by 2150 meat could be radically different – perhaps humans would even lose the psychological need to chew.” This last scenario illustrates how continuous feedback loops between changing food technology and evolving consumer preferences could result in radical changes to both, perhaps even new human psychological and physiological norms.

Human Health

When asked about the health effects of cultured meat, participants provided an array of possible outcomes. Several respondents optimistically foresaw increases in overall health status and longevity in developed nations due to a “clean” (sterile) product with less fat, higher nutrient density, and possibly smaller portion sizes. More specifically, one claimed: “There will be vast declines in obesity, infectious diseases, food-borne illnesses, auto-immune ailments, and health expenditures per capita as the system transitions to focus on lifelong [disease] prevention.”

Some participants went one step further and imagined meat becoming a health delivery system where food containing additives such as vitamins, vaccines, antibiotics, and other pharmaceuticals would be recommended or prescribed by doctors. Ultimately, one participant suggested, meat could be designed for particular human genomes (similar to the way medicines are given to people based on their genotype).

Still others believed that cultured meat would theoretically enable people to become more health-conscious, but were dubious that human health would unequivocally improve due to behavioral issues. For example, if people do not exercise or eat healthfully, obesity will persist. One participant wondered whether, even if food is tailored to meet individuals’ specific physiological needs, will it matter? “That is, will someone with a tendency towards high blood pressure buy a burger designed for him/her?” Another indicated that there might be negative effects associated with consuming too much protein.

Some respondents were more skeptical that cultured meat would indeed be healthier. One participant noted “It really depends on what the cultured meat is infused with – more fat, less fat, or just different fat.” Another respondent warned, “Perhaps there will be more obesity as additives are used to make cultured meat more desirable and marketable.” Some participants saw a sinister side to additives: They could have mildly addictive properties such as meat with caffeine (“Wakin’ Bacon”), and other, perhaps undisclosed, properties. Moreover, some participants expressed concern regarding the long-term health effects of cultured meat itself: It could cause both physical and genetic abnormalities that could be passed from one generation to the next, limiting personal development and, on an aggregate basis, national economic growth.


Participants were queried about how IVM might impact trends in standardized test scores as an indicator of education and intelligence. Those who responded were slightly and tentatively optimistic. Assuming that academic test scores are correlated with nutrition, they said, increasing school lunch quality could have a positive impact on test scores. Another participant simply foresaw an “increased educational emphasis on the food science, engineering, and biological fields required to generate and support the new cultured meat industry.” As with health care delivery, one participant suggested that food might become an integral part of career preparation. The participant postulated that in the future, “Children’s diets [will] become as strictly controlled as their exposure to strangers has been: scholars, athletes, and models [will all be] raised on custom diets from infancy.” This scenario highlights the possibility that greater flexibility in food design will facilitate its integration and coevolution with existing human institutions.

Ethics and Animal Cruelty

Workshop participants believed that cultured meat would reduce animal cruelty and suffering, and then went on to suggest that animal rights movements might be spurred by cultured meat. One respondent put it this way: “My sense is that we will see increasing sensitivity and expansion of ethical concerns as regards sentient beings, especially higher order mammals (cows, etc.). We may even see widespread acceptance of rights for animals and with this various mechanisms, legal and social, to minimize the pain of animals and possibly even protect some from killing for the purpose of food.” Another respondent put it more starkly: “There will be a different relationship with ‘the farm’ – [we will come to see it] as an inhumane slaughterhouse…”

Some respondents extended these views to human relations, theorizing that enhanced “ethical consciousness may transcend to human interactions, possibly leading to fewer violent crimes.” But views on this issue were mixed. Pessimistic participants imagined that diverse adoption decisions could be a polarizing factor, leading to increased tensions among religions, cultures, and nations: “On the human side I can see a backlash against ‘real’ meat eaters as savages, which could lower intercultural relations.”

Still others imagined that the elimination of animal slaughter would similarly eliminate the need for ethical reflection and forestall change: “I think it will prop up a lack of reflexivity in our culture about where the products we consume come from. It could slow down the changes in values the vegan community wishes to see in terms of [ethical treatment of] animals, humans, and ‘nature.’” Another participant made the same point: “If we don’t have to address the violent ways animals are treated in society today, will that be an overall loss to cultural values? Or would a transition to cultured meat open up this discussion?” A final participant observed that some cultures view nature as being separate from human society and, further, that the distinction can lead to political clashes. To illustrate the point, the participant queried, “Will we get over the epistemic divide engrained in our mindsets between nature and culture, or will cultured meat reinforce this great divide and lead to more GMO-like conflicts?” The implication that IVM, an animal-derived food source cultivated with industrial technology, could incite a shift toward integrated views of nature and human society or facilitate institutionalized animal rights illustrates the powerful links between technology, personal mental models, and cultural values. Simultaneously, the diversity of plausible scenarios discussed by the panels reflects the complex and unpredictable nature of these large-scale sociotechnical interactions.

Will we get over the epistemic divide engrained in our mindsets between nature and culture – or will cultured meat reinforce this great divide and lead to more GMO-like conflicts?

Environment and Land Use

Workshop participants were not specifically asked to comment on the environmental impacts of cultured meat, but many emphasized the importance of, and potential for, improvements in environmental sustainability via reduced resource consumption (water, fertilizers, etc.), fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and decreased pollution due to animal wastes. In addition, they noted that the reduction (but not elimination) of agricultural feedstock requirements for cultured meat as compared to livestock could increase availability of arable land. Optimistically, it was noted that factory meat production might facilitate enhanced environmental life cycle management of food production via water recycling, wastewater treatment, etc. By contrast others expressed concern that, even though cultured meat production might be less environmentally-damaging than traditional meat production on an equivalent mass basis, significantly greater demand (possibly driven by larger, more affluent populations that view IVM as inherently sustainable) could lead to higher production rates and therefore more environmental impacts than a “business as usual” scenario with livestock production only.

An important theme also emerged over use and management of the land that cattle currently occupy. Participants observed that grazing animals like cattle perform landscape management services that reduce vegetation and thus the risk of wildfires. They suggested that cultured meat could result in a kind of landscape unlike anything seen in generations, if ever. Hence alternative range management activities might need to be adopted. While the potential exists for conversion of grazing land to low-carbon uses, some participants believed that the “appropriate balance of land use” would require national oversight.

Economics in the United States

As with many other topics, the discussion on economics at the workshop resulted in uncertainty and lack of consensus. The prospect of a shift toward cultured meat caused two participants to express concern over a general “employment crunch” and other financial challenges in the agricultural supply chain. However, others imagined a number of national economic benefits ranging from avoided food-related expenditures to new business opportunities. Avoided expenditures, they said, might stem from lower overall food prices due to reduced demand for livestock feed; fewer losses associated with animal disease and adverse weather; and fewer cases of food-borne illness that can lead to lost wages, lower aggregate labor productivity, and increased healthcare expenditures. New business opportunities could take the form of novel food products and the application of complementary technologies from other industries such as flavor additives or self-cooking packages.

Some participants also discussed the byproducts of animal slaughter (e.g. gelatin, soap, pet food, leather, etc.) and the surrounding economic uncertainty. On the one hand, development of functional equivalents for these products could lead to economic growth; on the other hand, such equivalents could be more expensive than the animal-sourced substances. It is also possible that animals could continue to be raised for these products, making them both more expensive and, by some standards, ethically questionable.

As with all areas, the workshop findings stressed that there will be economic opportunities and challenges associated with a shift away from agricultural meat in favor of IVM. The trends highlighted here are likely only a few, but preparation and monitoring of the downstream effects could serve to mitigate the most significant losses.

Economic Equity

Attendees generally agreed with the notion that technology and society coevolve, but due to the nature of the research, discussions often began with a description of a technological change that was followed by a scenario describing its downstream social consequences. For example, optimistic individuals believed that IVM diffusion would lead to increasing wealth for the rich and poor, whereas another wondered if there are politics inherent in cultured meat (like Langdon Winner’s discussion of bridges in Long Island [14]) and went on to pessimistically imagine that the IVM industry itself might contribute to inequity by building polluting factories in impoverished communities, thereby negatively impacting health. However, on this topic, other participants started with projected social behavior and then considered what role cultured meat might play. According to this future scenario, the rich might self-segregate into enclaves according to food values, some of which would procure local and organic food whereas others would favor IVM and other engineered fare. It would follow that food designed for optimal nutrition would increase in price but impart consumers with superior health and productivity. This would in turn widen the gap between rich and poor within the United States as well as worldwide. Based on the vision of communities segregated by economic class, one member predicted an associated gap in education and a less skillful American workforce overall. Reflecting on how the social classes might react to such a divide, a final participant predicted that the desire for equity would be a defining characteristic of the sustainable development discourse in the future.

Global Hunger and Development

With respect to global poverty and hunger, many respondents indicated deep uncertainty regarding impacts on developing nations. Those who did express opinions were divided. The most optimistic held that IVM would provide inexpensive protein to the poor and alleviate global hunger. Other respondents predicted little to no change in global hunger and listed three possible reasons. First, according to participants, the problem of global hunger is one of distribution rather than production and IVM would not impact food distribution. Second, should a company try to build a production facility in a developing nation, it would be limited to those nations that have a preexisting industrial infrastructure, thereby limiting economic benefits to nations where development is already underway. Third, cultured meat could remain very expensive, possibly due to the presence of intellectual property rights, and therefore remain unaffordable to the poor. The most pessimistic workshop members reflected on the topic of intellectual property rights and feared that IVM could be seen as an economic tool for “global corporate crackdowns on rogue producers,” and that famines might be seen by corporations as opportunities “to lock in brand commitments.”

Food System Security

Uncertainty also surrounded the impact of cultured meat on food security, but focused on two factors: vulnerability and centralization. Factory production of cultured meat was judged to be less vulnerable to disease and environmental changes than livestock operations, and it was therefore determined to be more secure. Others considered the role of centralized production in food security, but found it to be an ambiguous factor. One respondent associated large, central carneries with ease of protection and thus greater security. By contrast, others placed greater emphasis on the risk of food supply disruption in the event of a successful attack on a large, centralized plant and suggested that building many small carneries would lessen the severity of any given attack. This discussion proved to be an interesting introduction to the issue of food system security, but may serve primarily to highlight the need for additional analysis.


The need for adequate regulation of cultured meat was noted around two major concerns: sanitary conditions and labeling requirements. Many participants wanted to be certain that the meat products were made in clean facilities but acknowledged that some standards might favor industrial production and put smaller artisan producers at a financial disadvantage.

Participants hoped that labeling requirements would reduce ambiguity associated with the sources and production methods of natural and cultured meat products. While concern was expressed that companies would try to label meat as “real” when, in fact, it was cultured, the labeling objective was reversed when it came to selling meat from endangered species. Participants were concerned that meat would be labeled cultured when in fact an animal had been killed. Simultaneously, participants acknowledged that there was no guarantee that the ability to engineer meat from endangered species would diminish the culling of protected animals.

Workshop participants believed that cultured meat would reduce animal cruelty and suffering.

However, some participants anticipated greater regulation of traditional meat production. In particular, they said, confined feeding operations (“factory farming”) would be made illegal due to animal rights protests, so any livestock meat produced would be on the cottage industry level. Yet another expressed concern that these “specialty growers of real meat” would also come under scrutiny for a variety of tainting problems experienced by those who receive insufficient training in “natural” food preparation, i.e., the need to cook it thoroughly.

Identifying Unacknowledged Implications

The stated goals of this investigation were twofold: to identify previously unacknowledged implications of cultured meat in areas already under discussion (e.g., human health, global hunger, and ethics), and to consider possible consequences in systems that are less obviously and less directly coupled to food production. The method chosen for addressing these goals was the assembly of focus groups. We readily acknowledge that the participants were primarily American scholars and that the lack of diversity may have biased and limited the scope of the findings. Nonetheless, we note that the workshops produced complex and often contradictory narratives representing a wide range of possible futures and unintended consequences associated with this emerging technology. This outcome was aided by the tendency of panelists to both build on and disagree with the ideas of others, and to express skepticism regarding simple, one-sided views of cultured meat. Participants raised important points regarding the coevolution of this technology with the world at large, and expressed uncertainty about all developmental steps related to the emerging technology.

Among the points of uncertainty was whether IVM would be commercialized and adopted at all. Technical challenges remain, but even if these are overcome, consumer acceptance is not guaranteed. Food has important meanings for many individuals and is often closely related to personal and cultural identities. For this reason, cultured meat could be scorned if it comes into conflict with important values and myths. In the United States, for example, myths of the family farm and the cowboy lifestyle figure prominently. For others, such as many Europeans, the agrarian landscape holds great value [15]. Elsewhere, the livelihoods of pastoral communities could be a pivotal factor [16].

Assuming factory production of meat is adopted, it will introduce the potential for food to become increasingly designed due to flexible manufacturing practices as well as genetic modification. As the technology develops, both humans and human institutions are likely to shift in unpredictable ways. For example, human food preferences will almost certainly shift to embrace novel food products. Equally possible, though less certain, is the potential for designer food to become more integrated with existing social institutions, perhaps serving as a pharmaceutical delivery system or an integral part of educational curricula. In a longer-term scenario, IVM could eventually contribute to modified human physiologies.

Regulation and policy will play important roles in adoption decisions and influence food safety and security. At a basic level, standards of cleanliness and manufacturing practices will affect in human health and perceptions of IVM in general. The need for, and impact of, labeling rules is uncertain. As with GMOs, a lack of labeling requirements might not hinder adoption, but could incite protests from some groups. While it is also possible that manufacturers will voluntarily label cultured meat in order to tout its beneficial properties, labels of any kind would have an unpredictable effect on consumption. In terms of food security and range management, specific policies could serve to enhance both if IVM becomes ubiquitous, but the complexity of these systems suggest that more analysis is required prior to implementing any regulation.

The workshop participants made one final point not yet discussed in this article: they warned that many risks associated with cultured meat production simply cannot be conceptualized at this point in the development process. While the authors believe that investigations such as this one serve to reduce uncertainties, and so-called “unknown unknowns,” they do not alleviate the need for ongoing monitoring of emerging technologies and their impacts as they are developed. Technologies as potentially significant as cultured meat will have equally significant impacts on the world. The complex and interconnected nature of global systems ensures that, for every shift in the nature of food production, there will be reactions in human norms, cultures, institutions, and landscapes. Identifying undesirable consequences before or as they arise can facilitate stabilizing decisions that result in more tempered technological transitions.


This work was made possible by the generous financial support of the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at Arizona State University and the Graduate College at Arizona State University.

The authors would like to thank the scholars who generously donated their valuable time, knowledge, and creativity to this project.



C. S. Mattick is a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Texas School of Public Health, 1200 Hermann Pressler Drive, Houston, TX 77030, U.S.A. Email:


J. M. Wetmore is with the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes at Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85257-5603, U.S.A. Email:


B. R. Allenby is with School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment at Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-5306, U.S.A. Email: