Is Lab-Grown Meat the Future?

Meat grown in laboratories could help feed the world and save animals’ lives.

People have been farming animals and eating meat for centuries, but scientists have recently found a way to grow meat in a lab without killing any animals. Could this discovery make animal farming a thing of the past?

Table of Contents

What is lab-grown meat?

Lab-grown meat is also known as cultured meat. This meat has been grown in a petri dish in a laboratory without using any live animals.

 

The production of this meat involves several steps. First, scientists collect stem cells from live animals and use these to create meat in the lab using bioreactors. Scientists use stem cells because they are the basic units that all animals, including humans, use to make muscles, tissues, and organs.

 

Once the cells have been collected, they are placed in Petri dishes with nutrients. These nutrients include proteins (amino acids) and carbohydrates to help the muscle cells to grow and produce more muscle cells.

 

So, why do we need lab-grown meat? Well, the world’s consumption of meat is continuing to grow at an alarming rate. This increase in the number of people eating meat and the quantity of meat they eat is causing worry that there will be a lack of food available to feed all these people in the future. Lab-grown meat could help solve this problem as scientists can produce lots of this meat very quickly.

Lab grown meat is cultured in Petri dishes such as these
Lab grown meat is cultured in Petri dishes such as these, Credit: Wikimedia/Lilly_M

Is lab-grown meat vegetarian?

Even though lab-grown meat doesn’t require any animals to be slaughtered, it is not considered vegetarian. Many vegetarians won’t eat this meat because it is still animal tissue. Cultured meat could also be a problem for some religious groups.

 

But it is not only vegetarians and religious groups that could be unsure about lab-grown meat. Recent research suggests that around 35% of meat eaters won’t be rushing out to buy lab-grown meat products once they are available. Many of these meat eaters describe cultured meat as unnatural even though lab-grown meat is being promoted as a more sustainable and environmentally friendly choice for meat eaters who are not ready to be vegetarian.

World’s first cultured hamburger
World’s first cultured hamburger, Credit: Wikimedia/World Economic Forum

A more environmentally friendly alternative to farmed meat?

Animal farming can have a negative impact on the environment. Keeping animals requires a lot of space and so forests and other natural areas are destroyed to build farms. Producing food to feed these animals also uses a lot of space and water.

 

Climate change is also a serious issue. Animal farming is responsible for a lot of the greenhouse gas emissions humans make every year which cause climate change.

 

Lab-grown meat is an alternative to animal farming. Growing meat in a lab could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help in the fight against climate change. For example, recent research has predicted that using lab-grown meat instead of live animals could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with animal farming by 96%.

 

Animal farming also uses a surprising amount of water. Water is used for the animals to drink and also to grow crops for the animals to eat. Producing meat products in the lab could reduce water consumption by up to 96%!

Farming is responsible for a lot of our greenhouse gas emissions
Farming is responsible for a lot of our greenhouse gas emissions, Credit: flickr.com/GRID-Arendal

What’s the future of lab grown meat?

Professor Mark Post showed the first lab-grown beef burger to the London press in 2013. Since then, lab grown meat production has overcome a lot of problems. However, there are still a lot of issues preventing this meat from arriving in supermarkets around the world. Currently, only one country in the world—Singapore—has approved lab-grown meat for sale. The country approved EatJust’s cultivated chicken for sale in December 2020. While several other countries are looking into approving lab-grown meat for sale, it could still be several years before lab-grown meat is available in a supermarket near you.

 

Lab-grown meat is also very expensive. It is estimated that the first cultured beef burger took two years to make and cost over $300,000 USD. Even though prices have reduced since then, lab-grown meat would still likely cost a lot more than traditional meat products which could mean that fewer people are willing to buy it.

Glossary

Amino acids: the molecules that make up proteins. Amino acids are the building blocks of all life.

 

Bioreactor: a device or system that provides a controlled biologically active environment, for example for cultivating microbes or housing biochemical reactions.

 

Carbohydrates: sugar molecules, including the complex carbohydrates fiber and starch; one of the three main nutrients found in food and drinks, along with proteins and fats.

 

Stem cells: The raw materials that all animals use to make muscles, tissues, and organs.

 

Sustainable: describing a practice or thing that serves to fulfil the needs of current generations without compromising the needs of future generations.

Flesch Kincaid Grade Level: 8.5

 

Flesch Kinkaid Reading Ease: 62.1

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