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Lab-grown meat does not come from cancer cells

Lab-grown meat does not come from cancer cells - Featured image

Author(s): AFP USA

Social media posts claim lab-grown meat is created using cancerous animal cells. This is false; cultivated meat production involves a process related to but separate from cancer, which US regulatory agencies have approved.

“I’m gonna tell you what I just found out about lab-grown meat and I can assure you, you’re going to be disgusted,” says Kashif Khan, content creator and CEO of a DNA testing company, in a June 25, 2023 Facebook reel.

“They realized that the best source for fast-replicating cells to make lab-grown meat that you are going to eat are cancer and pre-cancer cells. That means taking cancerous and pre-cancerous cells, literally, putting them as the base and having those replicate … to produce the meat that you are going to eat.”

Screenshot of a Facebook post taken July 3, 2023

Khan originally posted the video March 20, 2023 on TikTok. It regained traction online after the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on June 21 granted its first-ever approvals to two California-based companies, Upside Foods and GOOD Meat, to sell chicken grown directly from animal cells, paving the way for lab-grown meat.

But claims that such food comes from cancerous cells are false, scientists told AFP.

Cultivated meat is produced by harvesting cells from a living animal to establish a cell bank. They then go through immortalization, a process commonly used in biomedical research and vaccine production in which cells are manipulated to proliferate indefinitely — ensuring they can be cultivated for long periods of time.

“To call immortalized cells cancerous or precancerous is incorrect,” said Elliot Swartz, senior scientist at the Good Food Institute (GFI), a nonprofit group that promotes plant- and cell-based alternatives to animal products.

Swartz said July 3 that for a cell to be cancerous, it must exhibit six traits — one of which is immortalization. But he noted that “having one feature of a complex thing is not the same as being that thing or being ‘pre’ that thing.”

“For cells to promote cancer, they must be alive,” Swartz said. “In the production of cultivated meat, once cells are removed from the cultivator, they quickly become nonviable due to the lack of oxygen and nutrients.”

Liz Specht, GFI’s senior vice president of science and technology, told AFP it would be “a total mess from a process control standpoint if cultivated meat cells were cancerous because they would not be predictable, controllable or stable.”

Joe Regenstein, professor emeritus of food science at Cornell University, agreed.

“Immortalized cells are essentially the exact opposite of cancer cells,” he said July 3. “They are highly controlled and repeatable.”

The USDA and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will jointly oversee companies producing cultivated meat, according to a June 21 statement (archived here). Upside Foods and GOOD Meat received safety clearance from the FDA in November 2022 and March 2023, respectively.

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Originally published here.
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