Lab-grown meat. The future of a sustainable meat industry or another fad food?
Singapore became the first country to approve and regulate cultured meat for human consumption, when approving US company Eat Just’s “Chicken Bites” for commercial sale in December 2020. Although Eat Just started producing plant-based alternatives to eggs, the company has since moved into the innovative niche of cultured meat, animal tissues that are synthetically grown in a lab, and they join companies developing various cultured meats and fish products. There are huge environmental questions surrounding both the animal agriculture and fishing industries, both seem growingly unsustainable and companies such as Eat Just are looking to ease the strain these industries have on our planet. However this emerging industry has many hurdles to face, financial and especially in regard to consumer attitudes.
So, does cultured meat represent the future of green gastronomy or just a gigantic gimmick?
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Meat is much more of a social food that can be assembled in a lab with artificially constructed proteins and fats, humans have probably been eating meat for hundreds of thousands of years and that experience is not likely to be broken by cultured meats any time soon. A major issue with lab-grown meat will always be the additives needed to make them, a 2017 review of 72 studies conducted on 85,348 consumers in 32 countries found that food naturalness is crucial to the vast majority of consumers. The price will also be another major hurdle, the first cultured burger was 250,000 euro, and although this would likely get cheaper, it is unlikely to be affordable to most in the immediate future. Finally the taste is never likely to get that close to actual meat, as lab-grown meat has severe limitations with scientists only being able to recreate high protein meats such as lean chicken or fish. Also if we look at the current animosity toward GMO foods it is clear, there will be a long way to go until cultured meats are accepted in any way.
Without doubt cultured meat represents the future of the meat and fish industries, as it will eventually be more equitable, cleaner, greener and safer. Cultured meat is clearly more sustainable moving forward, as animal agriculture and fishing have hugely negative environmental impacts. But especially when it comes to fish lab-grown fish is much cleaner, being free from dangerous contaminants that often find their way into out food chain, for example mercury contained in Tuna. Likewise cultured meats will be the best step forward for a post-COVID world, the safety improvements over natural meat are two fold, cultured meat is less likely to carry contaminants and will not cause the encroachment into natural habitats that is known to lead to viral transfer from animals to humans.