he newest food trends are now exploring ideas beyond the usual. In 2019, lab-grown meat was one of the fastest-growing trends. Moreover, scientists are studying plant-based diets to tackle climate change.
“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”Sir Winston Churchill, Quote from 1931, Former PM of the United Kingdom
However, a new trend is emerging. Scientists are now investing research into lab-grown meat! Food researchers predict that lab-grown or cultured meat is the solution to the debacles of healthy meat choices and environmental degradation.
What’s the Process?
Every food we eat is made up of cells. So developing lab-grown meat will simply mimic the same process. To grow meat in a lab, scientists will harvest stem cells from the choicest animal’s muscles. Then, the stem cells will be kept in an engineered mixture that closely resembles a nutrient-rich broth.
The goal is that the stem cells will multiply in muscle fibers. An associate professor at the University of California, Amy Rowat, recently received a grant from the Good Food Institute to grow cultured meat. Rowat has academic experience in the science of food and had spent years growing cells. The scientist assures that lab-grown meat is real meat with only one significant difference – animals won’t be killed to make it.
If you are a skeptic who prefers the taste of good old farm-grown animals, making the switch might be a bit too much at first. However, scientists are working to achieve a taste that’s barely different from the original taste of naturally reared animals.
Kara Nielsen is known for analyzing food trends at CCD Innovation in Calif. While she agrees that lab-grown meat is a foreign concept, she forecasts that there might be advantages to it.
Since the cultured meat will have the familiar texture and taste of farmed meat, it serves as a good alternative for some people. This new method will also preserve animal rights. Those who worry about them have a viable option with lab-grown meat.
Is Lab-Grown Meat Expensive?
Theoretically, lab-grown meat should reduce the costs of meat in the food industry. According to Amy Rowat, with lab-grown meat, you’d need only one living cow to produce one billion burgers weighing 113 grams each. The traditional route will take 8,600 kilometers of land, 1.2 million cows, and three years of rearing before slaughtering them. This seems like a tall order when placed side by side with the one month it will take to grow the same amount in a lab.
Nonetheless, growing meat isn’t cheap. Companies like Higher Steaks, Moss Meat and Meatable, Memphis Meats, and Future Meat Technologies are currently trying to figure out how to grow affordable meat.
Future Meat Technologies recently raised $14 million for this goal. The company wants to build a pilot manufacturing facility that will reduce the price of growing cultured meat. Their goal is to reduce the cost, so it’s between $4 – $10 per pound. This will depend on whether there are plant-based meat substitutes in it or not.
Prior to this, Good Food Institute had set a $50 per pound target, which would have made it challenging to convert lab-grown meat to a commercial option. However, if the Israeli company, Future Meat Technologies, can achieve their pricing goals, cultured meat might become a household name sooner than anyone expects.
Is it Healthier than Farmed Meat?
Scientists also call lab-grown meat clean meat. This stems from the assumption that it is healthy and clean. Because cultured meat will be grown in a controlled environment, it’s plausible that it might be healthier than farmed meat.
Another way to achieve this is by intentionally growing “cleaner” meat. Scientists will accomplish this by modifying cellular genetic components to produce healthier meat. Therefore, labs will be able to grow low-fat meat or beef with healthy fats alone.
In general, the diet of farmed cows usually includes methane, but with cultured meat, this won’t be a problem. Also, we won’t need to worry about how the cows are being treated or cared for.
Is It Really the Best Alternative?
With adjusted costs, cleaner meat, and shorter procedures, lab-grown meat sounds like a perfect alternative to farmed meat. But is this really true?
Although some scientists believe it might be the best alternative to combat climate change, it is difficult to measure its real impact. A potential hurdle will be the amount of heat and electricity that a lab will require to grow meat. A recent study at Oxford University shows that the amounts required could end having a worse impact on the environment when compared with some cattle farming. The only way cultured meat can benefit the environment is if the companies find a way to mitigate carbon emissions.
As research into lab-grown meat increases, environmental and health implications are still surfacing. Available data shows that the carbon footprint might still compete with the 15% of the global greenhouse emissions caused by Animal Agriculture right now. If the producers of lab-grown meat find more efficient means of minimizing their emissions, then there might be a chance. If not, it is possible that in the long run, the carbon pollution will have a longer-lasting impact than methane gas pollution, making climate change worse.
With a carbon footprint that is ten times more than plant-based processed meats and five times more than chickens’, it is not hard to wonder if the enormous cost is really worth it. According to Macro Springmann — a senior environmental researcher at the University of Oxford — lab-grown meat does not solve any problems from an environmental standpoint.
Are They Proffering a Solution to Foreseen Emission Rates?
Because the industry is in its early stages, it is difficult to tell whether the above findings are what to go by. Scientists and companies invested in lab-grown meat claim it is the most viable option. However, there is no way to prove that. Similarly, it will be hard to prove if the reverse is the case. Nevertheless, one thing is clear; lab-grown meat is not yet solving the apparent problems.
Regardless of these findings, cultured meat’s marketing push is tailored towards protecting the environment. Lab meat companies will continue to develop their products in this light. Eventually, they are set to run into various challenges with climate-conscious consumers who might question the exact effects of their emissions. It is also possible that they become subject to stricter regulations by the government.
These companies might have to find better solutions to manage their emission problems. The growing industry might convert to using cleaner energy. However, if meat-growing companies start production on larger scales, their effects will be felt more potently. In all, it is possible that carbon dioxide pollution from lab-growing meat companies can be as damaging for the planet as beef and cattle emissions.
Will People Eat it?
As mentioned above, people are used to more traditional ways of getting their beef. It might be difficult to change the minds of consumers to prefer lab-grown meat. Some potential consumers believe it will definitely taste and feel different that farmed beef. This is not a far-fetched conclusion since consumer habits are largely based on psychological influences.
It is possible that marketing will push for potential positives. Some researchers believe that it is feasible to push consumers past any strangeness they might feel. Achieving this might be complicated, but it’s not impossible.
As long as the lab-grown meats replicate the tastes and feel of consumer’s choice meat, there might be a leapfrog acceptance.
If anything, cultured meat can find its customers among people who have concerns about the roles of Animal agriculture in climate change. Moreover, animal cruelty advocates will love the new and growing industry.
So is lab-grown meat the way of the future? We can’t say for sure yet.