While the market for plant-based meat alternatives is exploding, there’s another alternative to farm-raised meat that could soon become a staple of your local supermarket: lab-grown meat.
While companies vary in exact details, broadly speaking “lab-grown meat” refers to a method of making animal protein that’s far from a feedlot: In this approach, stem cells collected from animal tissue are placed in a medium meant to mimic nature and support growth (including amino acids, vitamins, minerals and a proprietary blend, which may be plant or animal derived). The result? A finished product that packs all the mouthwatering flavor and texture of, say, a hamburger or a chicken breast, but with none of the ethical, environmental or public health problems that can plague conventional meat production. In other words, it tastes like real meat, but no animal was harmed for it.
So, is it time we embrace lab-grown meat? On the one hand, lab-grown meat could help the meat and agriculture industry cut a massive chunk of its emissions. It’s well understood that livestock is a top source of methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more powerful than carbon in warming the climate. While a growing number of people around the world face hunger and food insecurity, only 55% of the world’s crops are actually eaten by humans; 36% of the calories produced in agriculture are currently used for animal feed (with 9% for biodiesels). By embracing lab-grown meat, we could regain all that land used for animal feed and use it for something better.
Still, there is a reason to be a little cautious with regards to lab-grown meat, according to Friends of the Earth. In a recent paper, they explained that actual data on health outcomes and environmental benefits is scant and points out that many companies aren’t fully disclosing all of their ingredients or methods because they are considered confidential trade secrets. Before lab-grown meat is the norm, they argue third-party verification of the full environmental impact is a necessity. Here at the Optimist Daily, we’ll be keeping an eye on the development of lab-grown meat.