The Impact of Cultured Meat

Imagine cutting through a piece of medium-rare steak. It’s still bleeding slightly. You take a bite and it tastes like beef. What if you found out that this piece of meat was laboratory-grown from a cell that came from an animal? This is called cultured meat and the idea has actually been around for quite some time.

A few queries come to mind when I think about the introduction of cultured meat, such as:

  • What the heck actually is it?
  • Will cultured meat be called something different from meat?
  • What does this mean for the farming industry?
  • What will this mean for our environment?
  • Can vegans and vegetarians eat cultured meat?

Cultured meat can go by the name of clean meat, vitro meat, lab-grown meat or cell-cultured meat. For now, we’ll stick with cultured meat. The process of lab-growing the meat starts by taking a cell from an animal. The animal is not harmed during the process. The idea is to then trick the cell into thinking it’s still inside the animal, which is done by feeding it certain nutrients. The cells then grow into muscles and fat. Add a bit of salt and pepper, and voilà!

 

Dutch Scientist, Professor Post, first introduced cultured meat to the world in 2013 at a press conference in London. It was a beef burger that cost $400,000 to produce and it didn’t even taste that good!

Since then, many startup companies have taken on the pursuit of a less meaty future. This includes numerous Silicon Valley start-up companies, such as, Hampton Creek and Memphis Meats.

One company called Finless Foods, believe that they have conquered the secret to a more cost effective way to produce cultured meat. Thank god they have, because I ain’t paying $400,000 for a burger! The secret is within the serum they use to help nurture the cell to a piece of meat. Unfortunately they can’t divulge any information, however it’s great to know there is a solution to the costly price.

It is assumed that in the  next decade our local supermarkets may potentially be selling cultured meat. So what does this mean for the naming of this so-called meat? Already there have been a  few cases and debates around this. In Australia, Cattle Council CEO Margo Andrae, has already begun calling for reforms to make sure cultured meat is not being labelled as meat. Margo Andrae goes onto say, “Calling it meat is a lovely reach for them [cultured meat companies], but I think it should be called what it is, which is lab-grown protein.”

Additionally, Missouri in the United States announced that they will be banning cultured meat products from being called ‘meat’. The main issue around this, is that the meat industry already feels that they are in jeopardy and wants consumers to know what they are buying – which isn’t actually real meat.

So how does the farming industry really feel about cultured meat. A 2015 report of Australia’s meat consumption for the year showed:

  • 45.3 kg of chicken was consumer per person
  • 27.9 kg of pork was consumer per person
  • 27.6 kg of beef and veal was consumed per person

Okay… so that’s a lot!

Robyn Warner is the Professor of Meat Science at the University of Melbourne. Professor Warner argues there is enough space for both meat and cultured meat. “I don’t think we will ever get rid of livestock production”, explains Professor Warner.

The main reason for the introduction of cultured meat was to reduce the environmental impact that meat is currently having on our planet. It’s estimated that around 15% of global greenhouse emissions come from livestock! A study showed a contrast between different meats, cultured meat, and the environmental impact that it has.

 

The graph above shows that that cultured meat is a lot lower than the other traditionally produced meats, meaning that it is a more sustainable option.

Consuming cultured meat will definitely be an adjustment for most people. But what about the growing number of vegans and vegetarians? How do they feel about this? As we know there are many reasons for becoming a vegan or vegetarian, such as animal cruelty and reducing your carbon footprint. A study looked into the ethics of these two factors and separated them into two moral profiles – prioritising animal welfare and/or sustainability. There is of course many more factors involved and it really does depend on the individual. So we’ll have to leave this one and place it into the ‘only time will tell’ box.

Cultured meat is quite a hot topic at the moment, even though it was introduced five years ago. Who knows, maybe cultured meat will appear on our supermarket shelves sooner than we thought. The interesting thing will be how much it will actually end up costing. Also whether people will be into it, in saying that if it looks like meat, tastes like meat, then I’d say most people would be down. Once again… only time will tell.

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