Is Lab Grown Meat Our Future?
With increasing research on lab-grown meat, chances are one day no animal will need to be harmed for your next burger. Not only that, but also an infinite supply of meat could mean a lifetime availability of food for all peoples on earth. But is lab-grown meat safe? Will it be the solution for food security in developing countries?
Also called cultured meat, in vitro meat or clean meat, lab-grown meat is a form of cellular agriculture that presents a new frontier in the field of food research. It is developed by taking fast-growing cells from a living organism and conditioning them with stem cell cultures in a lab which encourages them to multiply and grow into fully developed tissues.
Theoretically, cultured meat means an unlimited amount of meat can be developed from a little piece of meat. It is also possible to continue development without having to take cells out of an animal after production has continuously run for two months. This could mean a sustainable availability of food and in a way friendly to the environment.
The idea of cultured meat has been around since the 20th century but only became popular in the early 2000s. In 2013, Professor Mark Post from Maastricht University in the Netherlands became the first person to showcase a real in vitro burger patty. Having cost him more than $300,000 and over two years in production, the burger was cooked and eaten in 2013 at a press conference in London. Many startups across the world have since taken up research in a bid to be the first commercial producers of lab-grown meat.
The concept of cultured meat has attracted debate on its nutritional value and whether it’s safe for human consumption. Some media outlets and activists have been calling it clean meat to send a message that it is ‘safe and clean’ for consumption since no animals are slaughtered, and no harmful emissions are released into the atmosphere. This has been appealing to animal rights activists and environmental conservationists.
A survey released by the Good Food Institute also revealed that consumers were more likely to purchase products labeled as ‘clean’ over those labeled ‘safe,’ ‘pure’ etc. which presents a possible preference by consumers to take up in vitro meat. Developing countries which often have to deal with food insecurity could also benefit from the development of cultured meat as there may be a sustainable availability of food for the masses in these countries.
The availability of lab-grown meat in large scale is still years away, as scientists have to overcome several hurdles before the meat becomes a viable alternative to animal meat. First, the safety of lab-grown meat cannot be fully determined now as the process of development is still in the early stages. Scientists will have to convince the masses that this meat is safe for consumption.
Additionally, the current cost of production is ten times higher than that of normal beef which will make no economic sense if it remains so. The debate on environmental friendliness of lab-grown meat has also remained inconclusive since a lot of energy is used up in the production, and that could be detrimental to the environment.