Lab-grown Meat, a Humane Alternative to Factory Farming?
The meat industry is famously controversial for a slew of unpalatable reasons—its roles as a key contributor to global climate change and a major consumer and polluter of fresh water among them, not to mention the brutal treatment meted out to the billions of sentient animals processed annually by industrial farms. However, a host of scientists and entrepreneurs are working to develop a more ethical, sustainable, and healthier form of animal protein in the form of lab-grown meat.
Cultured meat, also known as synthetic or in vitro meat, is grown in cell cultures employing many of the same tissue-engineering techniques used in regenerative medicine. The first lab-grown, biologically identical burger patty, created by Dutch scientists, was unveiled to the world in 2013, and since then, a number of startups have picked up the ball with the goal of bringing the science to supermarket shelves.
In California’s San Francisco Bay area, Memphis Meats hopes to see its cell-cultured meatballs, hot dogs, and sausages on store shelves in about five years, while Perfect Day Foods is planning to bring lab-grown milk to market by 2017. Another company, Modern Meadow, aims to have its cultured “steak chips”—something between a potato chip and beef jerky on sale in the next few years, while Israeli startup SuperMeat is working to mass-produce “meal-ready” chicken without harming any animals.
“We’re not there yet, but in just a few years we expect to be selling protein-packed pork, beef, and chicken that tastes identical to conventionally raised meat but that is cleaner, safer, and all-around better than meat from animals grown on farms,” says Memphis Meats CEO Uma Valeti. “This is absolutely the future of meat. We plan to do to animal agriculture what the car did to the horse and buggy. Cultured meat will completely replace the status quo and make raising animals to eat them simply unthinkable.” (The Washington Post, The Good Food Institute)
According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), people who live in developed economies eat roughly 95kg of meat per year. In the developing world, consumption is closer to 30kg per year and climbing rapidly—by 2030, average meat consumption per person is projected to be almost 45kg per year, 10 per cent more than today. And with the global population projected to reach a staggering 10 billion people by 2050, the outcome is an estimated 70 per cent increase in demand for food over the next 34 years, according to a recent report by the World Resources Institute (WRI), while increasing urbanization in emerging economies points to strong growth in demand for resource-intensive foods, such as meat and dairy products.
“At the same time, technological advances, business and economic changes, and government policies are transforming entire food chains, from farm to fork,” the WRI report asserts. “Multinational businesses are increasingly influencing what is grown and what people eat. Together, these trends are driving a convergence toward Western-style diets, which are high in calories, protein, and animal-based foods.” (World Resources Institute)
Despite a growing number of social movements encouraging us to reduce the amount of meat we consume, and numerous studies underscoring the health-related and environmental rewards of a more plant-based diet, animal protein still constitutes a major part of the diets of most of the world’s societies. While the debate over the value of animal protein as part of a healthy diet continues, what is difficult to dispute is that the way meat has been commoditized over the last 50 years—under a system in which animals are farmed on an industrial scale, slaughtered far away from public scrutiny, and sold to consumers in sanitized, pre-packaged portions—is ethically unconscionable and environmentally unsustainable.
As lab-grown meat and milk inch closer to U.S. market, industry wonders who will regulate? (Science)
No animals were harmed to make this meat (From the Grapevine)
Clean Meat Company Memphis Meats Profiled in Today’s Wall Street Journal, Makes Global Debut (The Good Food Institute)
Lab-grown meat is in your future, and it may be healthier than the real stuff (The Washington Post)
SHIFTING DIETS FOR A SUSTAINABLE FOOD FUTURE (World Resources Institute)
World Agriculture: Towards 2015/2030. An FAO perspective…, 3.3 Livestock commodities (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)
World Resources Institute Report Underscores Heavy Environmental Impact of Meat Industry (Buddhistdoor Global)