By Pete Hardin, Publisher of The Milkweed

Why should U.S. taxpayer dollars bankroll research that seeks to boost the fortunes of the so-called, “lab-cultured meat” industry?  Jeepers creepers … firms attempting to develop and market “lab-cultured meat” have attracted hundreds of millions of dollars from investors, who hope to cash in on biotech-grown versions of “fake meat” products.

Currently, numerous patented processes for growing “lab-cultured meat” in biotech vats are enough to gag a maggot.  At this point in the often disgusting history of biotechnology foods, the “lab-cultured meat” industry is based upon using blood drained from fetal (as yet unborn) calves that are yanked from their mothers’ wombs in beef slaughter houses.  [Don’t tell any vegans, vegetarians, Hindus … or, for that matter, any other individuals who might be averse to eating “fake meat” … that “stuff” (for lack of an offensive, four-letter word) is produced using blood drained from unborn calves.]

Fetal calf serum is apparently full of nutrients and tissue growth-spurring materials.  But problems abound:

• Fetal calf serum (blood) is expensive – estimated costs of around $400/liter, or $2,000 per gallon.  That information was printed in the March 2021 issue of The Milkweed.  (No wonder some beef slaughter plants pay premiums for near-term dairy heifers.  Value-wise for slaughter houses, blood drained from fetal calves may be the icing on an already, highly-profitable cake.)

• Fetal calf serum simply won’t be available in quantities that would sustain anticipated growth of lab-cultured meat sales by firms hoping to market the “stuff.”

• Finally, or maybe firstly, there is the matter of public acceptance (or lack thereof).  If the public widely understood that blood extracted from unborn calves yanked from their mothers’ wombs was a major growth medium in “lab-cultured meat” … the whole damned (whoops!) industry would collapse.   As noted, the “lab-cultured meat” industry has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars from investors. 

Tom Vil$ack (and the U.S. Treasury) to the rescue?

In 2021, USDA, under the leadership of Secretary Tom Vil$ack, announced a $10 million grant to Tufts University for development and “education” involving lab cultured meat.  

Initial documents obtained by The Milkweed through a Freedom of Information Act request to USDA reveal the follow details about that $10 million grant:

The key thrust of that USDA-funded research at Tufts University will be to develop an alternative, cost-effective medium for growing tissues of “lab-cultured” meat in vats.  Without specifically mentioning “fetal calf serum,” the Tufts University research proposal openly acknowledges the need to develop “economical serum-free media” to spur growth of lab-cultured meat.

That $10 million research project also includes components to address questions about consumer acceptance regarding costs, flavor profiles, and use of “novel meat via cellular agriculture” as stand-alone fare, but also as “an ingredient in prepared dishes.”  

Further, the $10 million USDA grant proposes to train researchers for future scientific endeavors in lab-cultured meats and cellular agriculture.

Can lab-cultured meat help avert global starvation?

One of the oldest falsehoods perpetrated by food biotechnology proponents is the image of white-coated researchers saving future generations from starvation.  Yields on biotech row crops (corn, soybeans) are no better than non-genetically modified seeds.  Dairy’s own biotechnology brouhaha – recombinant bovine growth hormone – proved a bust.  

But the logic of the Tufts University research proposal to USDA refried that old canard: lab-cultured meat could help save the world’s burgeoning population from starvation … not to mention water scarcity, greenhouse gas emissions, and billions of tons of waste annually.    The Tufts University research proposal’s “Non Technical Summary” notes that the world’s population will burgeon to 10 billion by 2050, and that “total food and meat production must rise by 70 and 100%, respectively, to satisfy global demand.” That Summary further explains:

“New sources of sustainable protein would help alleviate these concerns and are the focus of the present proposal.  Cultivated meat production is emerging as a feasible solution to address immediate societal problems by developing new sustainable agri-food systems to feed a rapidly growing global population.  This industry will provide nutritious and safe foods while reducing environmental impact and resource usage.  (78-96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, 99% less land use, and 82-96% less water use).  

“This project aims to innovate the food supply chain from cell to fork and enhance food sustainability, nutrition, and food security by developing a cell-based meat platform based on the integration of physical, biological and social sciences. 

Cultivated-meat production is emerging as an alternative source of sustainable protein to help address nutrition and food safety for consumer choices.  The development of cultivated-meat faces many obstacles on an industrial scale: (a) questions related to consumer acceptance, perceptions and expectations; (b) technical sound life cycle and techno-economic analyses; (c) limited access to low-cost media and suitable cell lines impacting scalability; (b) [sic] lack of available biomaterials to achieve nutritious, safe and organoleptically accurate cultivated-meat; (c) {sic] lack of systematic approaches for training the next generation of professionals.  … ” (Bold emphasis added.)

Further, listed under the “specific aims” of that Tufts University project, we find:

“5. Develop economically viable serum-free media.”  

That’s an acknowledgement that fetal calf serum – priced at about $2,000 per gallon – is too expensive.


Repeatedly throughout the document, Tufts University officials refer to the word, “safe.”

What is “safe”?  In 1991-1992, a White House Commission headed by then Vice President Dan Quayle determined that biotech-produced materials (including food) required no additional safety testing, compared to their natural counterparts.  That determination – hatched during the heat of public controversy to Monsanto’s rbGH  – meant that all future food biotech applications need not have been subjected to human safety tests.  (Note: Quayle, a former newspaper publisher, did not know how to correctly spell the word “potato.”)

“Lab-cultured meat’ is produced by biotechnology.  Will there be valid, long-term human safety tests specifically for “lab-cultured meat” before that product is ultimately unleashed for consumption by the unsuspecting public?


• Didn’t the investors, who’ve poured hundreds of millions of dollars into firms attempting to develop and commercialize “lab-cultured meat,” realize that the critical growth medium is blood drained from calf fetuses yanked from their mothers’ wombs in slaughterhouses?

• Why should federal taxpayers bankroll development of lab-cultured meat?  Next time you see Tom Vil$ack, ask him that question. 

• Finally, claims of “safety” for any food products sourced from bovine blood cannot be taken seriously.  Bovine blood is a vector for transmitting  certain bovine diseases to humans.  Those diseases would include the human equivalent of “Mad Cow Disease” – Creutzfeld-Jakobs Disease.  Another potentially bovine blood borne human health issue would be Bovine Parvovirus, which may transfer Johne’s Disease to humans, resulting in potential  Crohn’s Disease afflictions.

In the 1980s, the United States military was researching possible use of bovine blood plasma in humans (in the event of a national emergency).  That research was discontinued when England’s “Mad Cow Disease” emerged and afflicted nearly 200 persons.

Comments by OrganicEye’s Mark Kastel

“It’s a real stretch to call these biotech-derived materials, which will be produced in vats in sealed factories, ‘food.’”

“What’s driving this market development is an orgy of equity investments.  They’re seeking one of the economic holy grails: the ability to patent our food supply as intellectual property.”

“These aren’t corporations that have the good of society in mind, the environment, human health, animal welfare, or other issues.  This is about raw power and control of the food supply.”

Note: Mark Kastel is a long-time organic farm policy analyst who heads OrganicEye, an organization focused on integrity of our foods.

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Source: The Milkweed