"In vitro meat" is the name given to edible meat products that are artificially generated in laboratories as opposed to being obtained from butchered animals. Although the process does use animal cells to start the growing process, the need for a live animal is removed once an adequate amount of muscle tissue has been grown. There are several reasons why there is robust research in the field of in vitro meat production, including projected eventual cost savings, environmental concerns with the raising of livestock and potential health benefits from controlling the development of the muscle tissue. As of 2011, there is no commercial production of in vitro meat that is intended to be eaten by the public.
The process of creating artificial muscle tissue begins with actual muscle cells from an animal. Once obtained, these cells are placed in a growing medium that provides essential nutrients, allowing the cells to grow. In one technique, the cells are simply fed and allowed to make long strains of muscle tissue, growing freely in the medium. A more complex technique involves providing a framework of proteins for the cells to grow into and around, approximating the look and shape of a real, complete muscle.
The actual production process has many complex problems that have yet to be resolved in an economical way. One of these is the fact that many different types of hormones and other cells must be introduced into the growth medium so the muscle cells will form the proper structures. Another is that, to be more efficient and environmentally friendly than the traditional livestock industry, alternatives to animal-based sources for the growth medium need to be established.
Potentially, one of the largest problems that could face a worldwide in vitro meat industry is the common public perception of the product itself. Although it would consist of exactly the same cells as meat from a real animal, the idea that it was grown in a laboratory could prevent consumers from embracing the meat. There could even be fear, rooted in its artificial origins, that the product could be hazardous to a diner's health.
Environmental concerns about the detrimental effects of the cattle and other livestock industries have given support to the in vitro meat research being conducted. In addition, some researchers have postulated that in vitro meat could eventually be a healthier choice than traditional butchered meat because of the sterile environment in which it is created. Some opponents of the in vitro production of meat argue that the environmental costs of the entire production process would actually be more harmful than the current livestock industry.