Clean Meat: A Literature Review
Clean meat – sometimes also called cultured meat or cell-based meat – grown from animal cells without the need to raise and kill animals, is a promising new technology that could reduce and ultimately end animal agriculture. As food companies, both old and new, invest heavily to advance the technology and bring the first products on the market, questions remain on whether and how consumers will accept clean meat on their plates.
In this systematic review, researchers looked at 14 empirical studies published in peer-reviewed journals between 2014 and 2018, exploring what is known about consumer acceptance of clean meat. The key take-away: The extent to which consumers reject clean meat will most likely be driven by concerns about taste, price, and safety. Acceptance also varies between different demographics.
Researchers analyzed findings on different factors determining consumer acceptance: Demographic variations, common objections, perceived benefits, and uncertainty. The most significant results are summarized here:
- Demographic variation: Overall, men are more likely than women to try and eat clean meat, as are younger consumers. Other demographic findings seem to be more mixed. Some studies find higher acceptance among urban and more educated consumers. Others find lower-income consumers to be more likely than higher-income to accept clean meat.
- Common objections: The perception that clean meat is unnatural is among the most common objections raised by consumers. Some findings suggest that concerns about naturalness are an expression of practical concerns about harm to health and the environment. However, some consumers may believe unnaturalness to be an inherently unethical characteristic.
- Perceived benefits: In general, consumers believe that clean meat provides benefits to animal welfare and the environment. Avoiding greenhouse gas emission seems to be the most salient environmental benefit. Perception of health benefits were more mixed. However, findings suggest that perceived benefits are not likely to be crucial consumers’ decisions to buy clean meat.
- Doubts and uncertainty: There are some ethical doubts about clean meat that seem to be tied up with naturalness concerns and perceived economic impact. However, quantitative studies show strong agreement that clean meat is perceived as overall more ethical than conventionally produced meat. Other doubts concern proper regulation and transparency.
Limitations And Future Research
The researchers note that some studies reported vastly different results on the general level of acceptance. In part, this was likely because measures of acceptance and descriptions of clean meat given to study participants vary widely. This has made it difficult to make meaningful comparisons of acceptance levels between different studies.
All studies were conducted in the U.S. and Europe. But there is reason to believe that cross-cultural differences of acceptance likely exist, as has been reported in the past for other new food technologies, like genetically modified crops. For example, one study found that consumers’ regret about the potential end of farming as a traditional way of life were higher Europe than the U.S. Since most of the future growth in demand for meat could be in other world regions, notably China and India, research is needed to explore consumer acceptance in those countries.
Take-Aways For Advocates
The researchers recommend that advocates prioritize concerns about safety of clean meat, notably, any related perceptions of unnaturalness. How this can be done in the most effective way, for example by reframing clean meat as more natural than conventionally produced meat, is a question to be further explored (see also Faunalytics’ own study on naturalness concerns and consumer acceptance and our resource hub for everything on clean meat).