A future where stem cell chicken and steak is a regular feature on menus and shop shelves is not far off, scientists have said.
Researchers from Wageningen University in The Netherlands have said the scientific processes currently being used to try to develop regrown organs from stem cells can be used to create an ethical and environmentally friendly source of meat.
Published in the Cell Press journal Trends in Biotechnology, the researchers note the growing demand for meat products across the globe, and that this demand is unsustainable in terms of energy consumption and environmental pollution – and the suffering of animals that goes along with this.
Study co-author Cor van der Weele said: "We believe that cultured meat is part of the future. Other parts of the future are partly substituting meat with vegetarian products, keeping fewer animals in better circumstances, perhaps eating insects, etc.
"This discussion is certainly part of the future in that it is part of the search for a 'protein transition.' It is highly effective in stimulating a growing awareness and discussion of the problems of meat production and consumption."
Edible meat has already been grown from stem cells. In 2013, scientists announced the world's first stem cell burger.
van der Weele explained she first heard of cultured meat in 2004 when frog steaks were served at a French museum. In a macabre twist, the frog donor watched on as visitors ate the steaks.
Study co-author Johannes Tramper has studied the cultivation of animal cells for almost three decades and suggested insects could be a useful food source in the future.
In their new paper, the researchers suggest a potential meat manufacturing process starting with cells and ending with minced meat. While there are considerable obstacles, including the maintenance of a continuous stem cell line and the overall cost, they believe every town or village could one day have its own cultured meat factory.
They wrote: "Cultured meat has great moral promise. Worries about its unnaturalness might be met through small-scale production methods that allow close contact with cell-donor animals, thereby reversing feelings of alienation. From a technological perspective, 'village-scale' production is also a promising option."