Over the last few years, genetically modified foods created quite the buzz and controversy. However, the next big thing, courtesy of biology, is already here. It’s lab-grown meat.
Let’s face it, the meat industry is a disaster. Animals are fed poorly, raised with antibiotics in crowded spaces, and then slaughtered. The animals themselves also contribute to global warming (responsible for 44% of the world’s methane and 53% of nitrous oxide emissions), waste and water contamination. In fact, they contribute to more greenhouse gasses than all of world’s cars, trucks, boats and planes combined. And yet, the demand for meat is still there. People love their meat, and there’s very little that can be done to change that. Lab-grown meat seeks to change that.
Meat can be grown from cell samples into the same meat that you love. Here’s how:
That would mean you no longer have to feed guilty about eating it and it would eliminate (or make better) all the main issues that the meat industry faces today. The promises that researchers are making do sound good, but we’re yet to see if they deliver on them or fall short.
While there are currently are meat substitutes, they hardly satisfy any meat-eaters. Plus, they are often loaded with other ingredients that make them less than healthy. However, fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your view), lab-grown meat is not just ready. Right now, producing a lab burger can cost $330,000 and the meat still doesn’t taste the way it is supposed to. But once this cost goes down it should give one of the largest food industries a run for its money.
In the end, what will determine if lab-grown meat is a success or a failure is how interested the public is. There weren’t many surveys done to gauge the interest, but several studies suggest that quite a few people would be willing to give cultured meat a try. In 2013, before the first lab burger reached a plate, only 13% of 180 Belgians surveyed knew what lab-made meat was. The following year, a similar survey was done in United States and already 20% of the people considered giving cultured meat a chance. While one would expect vegetarians to jump on board with this given a chance, it seems that of the 70 vegetarians asked, most were not convinced. They tended to perceive lab-grown meat more unhealthy than non-vegetarians and viewed it more negatively.
Some non-peer-reviewed surveys also showed that vegans were even less interested because the meat still contained animal cells. However, there’s not enough data to show what the public opinion really is about lab grown meats. Belgian researchers say that with education on the environmental benefits and a peek inside how the meat is actually made, people are more willing to give it a shot.
In 1931 Winston Churchill was optimistic that something would replace raising livestock:
We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium. Synthetic food will, of course, also be used in the future. Nor need the pleasures of the table be banished. That gloomy Utopia of tabloid meals need never be invaded. The new foods will from the outset be practically indistinguishable from the natural products, and any changes will be so gradual as to escape observation.
Now it’s more than hopes or science fiction, as scientists estimate that by 2020 they could get the costs down to an affordable level through increasing efficiency and bulk production.You may see lab-burgers in your next barbecue quite soon.
Here’s the world’s first public lab burger taste test in 2013
How do you feel about it? Would you give lab-grown meat a shot?