Words by Lottie Ennis
Lab grown meat has been in the pipeline for some time now, and it was in 2013 at a news conference in London that it was first tasted in the form of a burger. When the two tasters tested the burgers, they reported that the meat tasted very similar to normal meat, with the only complaint being that it was a bit on the dry side. It was reported that this was probably because of the low fat content of the meat; an issue that will be altered as experimentation goes on. By the looks of it, a food revolution in production and consumption is on the horizon, but how exactly is artificial meat created?
Firstly, a few stem cells are taken from a living animal. These cells are then placed in a nutrient dense liquid where they multiply to create muscle tissue, which is the main component of the normal meat we consume today. To help them look more commercially desirable, the meat is grown around a scaffold in order to achieve the shape of a burger patty or nugget.
Some of the positive aspects of lab grown meat include the drastically reduced environmental impact compared to regularly farmed meat. This is because only a few live animals are needed for the cells that grow the meat — in turn, less land would be taken up from husbandry and there might ultimately be a lot less CO₂ emissions. Research from the Good Food Institute has shown that a cell culture the size of one chicken egg can produce a million times more meat than a chicken barn stacked with 20,000 chickens, meaning energy costs are lower, there is less waste and less animals are harmed. Because lab meat only needs a few live animals — and as the technology develops may not need any — the reduction in animal cruelty could be massive. This is a huge benefit of artificial meat and could ultimately change the food industry as we know it.
Although there are a lot of positive changes associated with lab grown meat, the impact on the farming industry could be drastic. Artificial meat could eventually become cheaper than normal meat, meaning consumers may not have a choice in what they buy. This could mean that there is less demand for traditionally farmed meat and it may become a more niche market for those who prefer farmed meat. A result of this may be reduced income for family-run farms as they will no longer have a regular demand for their products and services. On a positive note, it may put an end to some commercial farms where animals are treated inhumanely.
With regards to the rise of veganism and vegetarianism, it is difficult to know how many vegans might react to the concept of this cultured meat. Considering it is biological meat and has been grown from animal cells, it still technically counts as an animal product. However, because no animals died or suffered, and the environmental impact is low, there is a possibility that some vegans may incorporate it into their diet. It is possible, though, that some will reject a diet that includes artificial meat due to the unknown health implications. Before any serious medical testing we cannot know the true effects of eating lab grown meat and it is very tricky to compare one diet against another as everyone’s bodies are so different.
In my opinion, lab grown meat is something I would try, but it is important that bigger issues are addressed, such as the unethical practices of some commercial farms. Ironically, artificial meat has the potential to cause more of what it was trying to stop — huge farms may begin treat animals even worse as they try and compete with the prices of cultured meat. Overall, I appreciate the environmental benefits of lab grown meat but we have a long way to go before finding a solution that works for everyone whilst safeguarding our planet.