Lab-Grown Meat Has Come A Long Way. So Why Hasn’t It Made Its Way To Our Plates?
Author: Courtney Kruk
DOCUMENTED BY: Unsplash
Would you eat lab-grown meat?
The promise of artificially cultivated meat has been dangling over our heads since 2013 when Professor Mark Post and a team of scientists at Maastricht University in the Netherlands unveiled the world’s first lab-grown beef burger. The question of eating it has continued to float around the internet and news headlines in the years since, but it hasn't quite made it's way to our plates. So, will it ever?
Documented By: Daniel Faro
The basics first: what is lab-grown meat?
It’s all in the name really. Lab-grown meat (also referred to as clean meat, cellular agriculture or cultured meat) is meat grown in a laboratory from cultured cells. There are a few different ways to grow a piece of meat, but the most common method is to take a tissue sample – a biopsy – from a living animal and then extract stem cells.
The cells need a bit of help to grow and multiply into something edible, so once extracted, they are fed a nutrient-rich broth (containing proteins, vitamins, sugars and amino acids) and bathed in a liquid growth medium. Then they are placed in a stainless steel tank called a bioreactor.
The most common growth serum used to culture meat cells is fetal bovine serum (FBS). This comes from the blood of cow fetuses and it involves the killing of pregnant cows and calves. So, if FBS is used for lab-grown meat, it’s not a completely slaughter-free process.
Documented By: @mosa_meat
Why do people want to grow meat in a lab anyway?
Not everyone wants to know how the sausage gets made. And, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of lab-grown meat. But there is a case for making animal food products artificially.
That’s not to say it’s a silver bullet though: manufacturing facilities for lab-grown meat are energy-intensive. If they’re not powered by renewables, the carbon emissions could be significantly higher than conventional meat sources.
Documented By: @goodmeatinc
Will lab-grown meat be on our plates anytime soon?
We’ve come a long way in the decade since Post’s lab-grown burger. There are now around 30 global laboratories and companies working to develop cultured meats (including chicken, beef, duck and lobster) and bring them to market. Some are even hoping to do so in the next few years.
The news headlines surrounding these announcements always make it feel like a product we can actually eat is just around the corner. In reality, lab-grown meat will probably remain behind the closed doors of facilities for a few more years at least. The sector still faces financial challenges and is in an experimental stage, particularly in terms of creating a product that can be scaled and that people will want to eat.
We'll nearly certainly have access to lab-grown meat in our lifetime. So there’s really only one thing left for us to ask: would you eat it?
For us, the answer is yeah, probably. There are obviously cognitive hurdles to get over (lab-grown meat needs help rebranding) and some ethical issues to resolve (like the use of FBS). But with the amount of investment going into this sector, we'll probably see something in our supermarkets that resembles and tastes as good as conventional meat in the next decade. In the meantime, we’re pretty content with plant-based imitations or, you know, vegetables.