Lab-grown meat, also known as cultured
meat, has been called the future of food by leading scientists and industry
experts. Produced by the cultivation of animal cells rather than the slaughter
of animals, this new and novel form of meat is likely to hit the supermarket
shelves in the not too distant future. Despite the many environmental benefits
attached to lab-grown meat, our attitudes surrounding high-tech meat will need
some major adjusting before this food source is widely accepted.
Cultured meat is a form of cellular
agriculture that uses many of the same tissue engineering techniques seen in
regenerative medicine. With conventional farming associated with a range of
environmental and ethical problems, this form of meat may be the solution we've
all been waiting for. From land clearing and pollution through to mass animal
transport and unethical slaughtering practices, lab-grown meat can be produced
safely and relatively inexpensively with none of these associated problems.
While vegans and vegetarians are likely to
be on-board, according to a recent report, existing meat eaters may be much
harder to convert. In a new study, published in Frontiers in Nutrition,
researchers surveyed 480 adults in the
US on their attitudes towards cultured meat, along with their willingness to
eat new cultured meat products. While almost two-thirds of participants were
willing to give lab-grown meat a go, this number changed depending on how the
new meat was described.
According to lead author of the study,
Christopher Bryant of the University of Bath, "We found that when cultured
meat was framed as a cutting edge, high-tech product, this was less appealing
to consumers than when it was framed as a solution to societal problems, or
when it was framed as the same as conventional meat." While cultured meat
is undeniably high tech, when this product does hit the shelves, we may need
some innovative marketing to get it off the ground.
The race is already on to produce cultured
meat on a commercial scale, with NASA having looked into lab-grown meat and
seafood as early as the turn of the century. Dutch lab at Maastricht University
were the first to grow a synthetic burger a few years later, with at least half
a dozen companies around the world now battling it out to lower costs and
improve safety standards amidst a web of legal and compliance issues. There are
still many problems to overcome, including the energy needed and costs
associated with manufacture.
While the production of lab-grown meat is
likely to be energy intensive for some time, this situation is likely to
improve in the coming years due to enhanced economies of scale. According to a
recent World Economic Forum report, "as production processes mature and
production is scaled up, leveraging renewable energy sourcing and localizing
production in cities (much like craft beer is today), the environmental
benefits of lab-grown meat could be enhanced significantly." With the
Earth's population expected to hit 9.6 billion by 2050, and livestock
comprising 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, cultured meat, and
good marketing, is needed now more than ever.
Image source: Eight Photo