Lab-grown meat, also known as cultured meat, has been called the future of food by leading scientists and industry experts. Produced by the cultivation of animal cells rather than the slaughter of animals, this new and novel form of meat is likely to hit the supermarket shelves in the not too distant future. Despite the many environmental benefits attached to lab-grown meat, our attitudes surrounding high-tech meat will need some major adjusting before this food source is widely accepted.
Cultured meat is a form of cellular agriculture that uses many of the same tissue engineering techniques seen in regenerative medicine. With conventional farming associated with a range of environmental and ethical problems, this form of meat may be the solution we've all been waiting for. From land clearing and pollution through to mass animal transport and unethical slaughtering practices, lab-grown meat can be produced safely and relatively inexpensively with none of these associated problems.
While vegans and vegetarians are likely to be on-board, according to a recent report, existing meat eaters may be much harder to convert. In a new study, published in Frontiers in Nutrition, researchers surveyed 480 adults in the US on their attitudes towards cultured meat, along with their willingness to eat new cultured meat products. While almost two-thirds of participants were willing to give lab-grown meat a go, this number changed depending on how the new meat was described.
According to lead author of the study, Christopher Bryant of the University of Bath, "We found that when cultured meat was framed as a cutting edge, high-tech product, this was less appealing to consumers than when it was framed as a solution to societal problems, or when it was framed as the same as conventional meat." While cultured meat is undeniably high tech, when this product does hit the shelves, we may need some innovative marketing to get it off the ground.
The race is already on to produce cultured meat on a commercial scale, with NASA having looked into lab-grown meat and seafood as early as the turn of the century. Dutch lab at Maastricht University were the first to grow a synthetic burger a few years later, with at least half a dozen companies around the world now battling it out to lower costs and improve safety standards amidst a web of legal and compliance issues. There are still many problems to overcome, including the energy needed and costs associated with manufacture.
While the production of lab-grown meat is likely to be energy intensive for some time, this situation is likely to improve in the coming years due to enhanced economies of scale. According to a recent World Economic Forum report, "as production processes mature and production is scaled up, leveraging renewable energy sourcing and localizing production in cities (much like craft beer is today), the environmental benefits of lab-grown meat could be enhanced significantly." With the Earth's population expected to hit 9.6 billion by 2050, and livestock comprising 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, cultured meat, and good marketing, is needed now more than ever.
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