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Lab-Grown Meat Has a Bigger Problem Than the Lab

Leading scientists agree that cultured meat products won’t give you cancer, but the industry doesn’t have the decades of data to prove it—so it’s trying to avoid the question instead.

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Photo illustration: 731; Photographer: Beth Sacca for Bloomberg Businessweek (still life); Getty Images (meat) 

If you avoid meat to cut down on animal cruelty, carbon emissions or both, your options are a lot better than they were a decade ago, which is to say they’re … fine. For people who can afford to pay a premium, veggie burgers and nuggets from the likes of Beyond Meat Inc. and Impossible Foods Inc. are a much tastier option than the average imitation-meat entrees of the past. What they aren’t, though, is meat—and many such products are so packed with salt and saturated fat that they probably shouldn’t be a staple of most diets. There is, however, another option on the way for those in search of better guilt-free protein: growing meat from cells in a lab, without raising any living animals for slaughter. Yes, really.

Thank the biotech revolution. Under the right conditions, animal cells can be grown in a petri dish, or even at scale in factories full of stainless-steel drums. For decades, companies such as Pfizer Inc. and Johnson & Johnson have cultured large volumes of cells to produce vaccines, monoclonal antibodies and other biotherapeutics. Now the idea is that we might as well eat these cells, too.