By Madison Edenfield




What started out as a commentary on the ethics of the meat industry has stirred questions about eating meat products grown from human cells. Is this synthesized cannibalism, or simply the future of meat?[1]

Andrew Pelling, with the help of industrial designer Grace Knight, and artist and researcher Orkan Telhan, developed a grow-your-own steak kit using human cells and blood.[2] This DIY kit involves collecting cells from inside your cheek with a cotton swap and putting these cells onto “pre-grown scaffolds made from mycelium.”[3] The cells are then stored in a warm environment and fed with a serum for about 3 months until the steak is fully grown. [4]

This artistic statement stirred up controversy in the art world, but it also poses an interesting question– what if we did start eating meat grown from our own cells? I will discuss two topics arising from this question: who would regulate this human, lab-grown meat and would eating it count as cannibalism?

First, U.S. food production is overseen by two regulatory agencies: the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). [5] These two agencies oversee different aspects of food production and have different requirements and frameworks. Thus, it is important to distinguish which agency would oversee lab-grown­­–or cultured–meat. Cultured meat does not fit neatly within the parameters of the FDA and USDA because it falls within both of their jurisdictions. [6]

The USDA oversees meat production, but in the case of cultured meat, the stem cells are extracted without slaughter. These cells are then managed and grown in laboratories.[7] However, in the abstract, this process could be similar to cheese or yogurt fermentation which falls under the FDA’s jurisdiction. So, the end product is meat (regulated by the USDA), possibly with other ingredients (regulated by the FDA) like edible polymer scaffolds.[8] Due to the complexity of cultured meat, the USDA and FDA agreed to jointly manage cultured meat in March 2019.[9]

The FDA will oversee the collection and management of stem cells as well as cell growth. In simple terms, the FDA will govern all the steps to cultured meat before it is actually meat. From there, the USDA will take over and oversee the processing of the tissue into meat and will label the final product. This combined approach will cover all cultured meat derived from livestock to poultry, but will it potentially cover cells derived from humans?[10]

Second, there is surprisingly sparse information on whether eating human, lab-grown meat would be considered cannibalism. However, a few sources seem to believe that consuming human, cultured meat would not be considered cannibalism.[11]

Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina, professor at George Mason University stated that, “‘Human meat’ produced through scientific method rather than human person is actually non-human in physical sense. It is human only in biochemical composition.”[12]

However, Bill Schutt, professor of biology and author of Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History, argues that eating human, cultured meat falls into a gray area. “I suppose if these are cultured human cells we’re talking about, then I’d have to say yes, I’d consider this cannibalism.” But if this meat is derived from human tissue, Schutt concludes that the tissue “isn’t an individual any more than an isolated neuron or muscle fiber is an individual.”[13]

While this may seem like something out of a science fiction novel, lab-grown meet is not that far from being integrated into our daily lives. As of 2021, there are over 100 companies focused solely on cultivated meat, and 60 additional companies have announced services or products connected to cultured meat.[14] There is currently no food made from cultured animal cells available for sale in the U.S. market[15]

Whether you’re appalled or intrigued by the idea of eating human cells, cultured meat from humans is not likely to catch on in the mainstream culinary world.[16] Dr. Koert Van Mensvoort, director of the Next Nature Network and author of In Vitro Meat Cookbook, believes that there will be a “huge reluctance against in vitro human meat.”[17] Van Mensvoort predicts that “it will be very, very niche. Maybe a very haute-cuisine restaurant will offer this once-in-a-lifetime, special experience for which you pay a lot of money.”[18]

While delivered under the humorous guise of eating human steak, this idea represents a very important legal question that needs to be examined as the world evolves– how will the law adapt? Is the legal system capable of keeping up with new technological advances and our increasingly complex world? Food for thought.





[1] Iain Leggat, Scientists have created an edible steak made from human cells – here’s why, The Scotsman (Nov. 19, 2020, 4:44 PM),

[2] Luana Steffen, Grow-Your-Own Human Meat Kit – “Technically” Not Cannibalism, Intelligent Living (Jan. 29, 2021),

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Luke Grocholl, Clean Meat – How an Emerging Technology Will Be Regulated, Millipore Sigma (last visited Mar. 3, 2023),

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.; see also Food and Drug Administration, Human Food Made with Cultured Animal Cells (Nov. 16, 2022),,and%20cell%20growth%20and%20differentiation.

[9] U.S. Gov’t Accountability Off., GAO-20-325, Food Safety: FDA and USDA Could Strengthen Existing Efforts to Prepare for Oversight of Cell-Cultured Meat (2020).

[10] Id. at 19.

[11] Whitney Kimball, Is Eating Synthetic Human Flesh Cannibalism?, Gizmodo (Oct. 16, 2017),

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] 2021 State of the Industry Report: Cultivated meat and seafood, Good Food Institute § 1 at 22.

[15] Food and Drug Administration, Human Food Made with Cultured Animal Cells (Nov. 16, 2022),,and%20cell%20growth%20and%20differentiation.

[16] Rich Wordsworth, What’s wrong with eating people?, Wired (Oct. 28, 2017, 8:00 AM),

[17] Id.

[18] Id.


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