Clean Meat

To many people, there is nothing better than a perfectly cooked steak, a lovely lamb roast, or even a simple 12 pack of chicken McNuggets. Unfortunately, the global population is rising and the demand for meat is increasing, while the meat industry is struggling to keep up! Almost 80% of agricultural land is used for raising livestock for the purposes of food. Furthermore, the livestock being farmed globally produces around 15% of our total greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, the countless number of animals that are slaughtered every day just to feed humans is, when you think about it, unsettling. Something needs to change.

A potential solution to this problem is currently being developed; not on farms or in factories, but in laboratories. The solution is this: cultured meat. No, scientists aren’t exposing animal flesh to the fine arts, they are growing it in Petri dishes similar to how they might culture bacteria or yeast. By obtaining the right animal cells and giving them the appropriate nutrition, it is possible to grow an entire beef burger from one single cell.

This technique of producing what is being termed “clean meat” has the potential to yield large amounts of perfectly good meat for human consumption without requiring large amounts of land, water, or feed. It also greatly reduces the number of greenhouse gases that would be produced by the livestock, and it prevents the animal cruelty and slaughter that is currently occurring in the meat industry. Sounds too good to be true right? Well, obviously there are still some hurdles that need to be overcome before we are all biting into our lab-grown lamb or our
petri-dish pork.

The possibility of completely substituting traditionally farmed meat for clean meat is still a while off. One problem is that scientists are only able to replicate certain types of meat. Burgers are simple enough, but trying to create a porterhouse steak is a little more tricky, as it requires a specific combination of fats and proteins. One advantage of this is that it may be possible to customise the fat content of meat to improve it’s health benefits while maintaining great taste. Scientists should be able to produce any type of meat in the future, but it will require time and money to develop the technology. This leads to the next big problem…

How much will clean meat cost? The first ever burger created and cooked using this method was valued at $330,000. Now that’s a bit expensive for my taste, but that was in 2013 and further research has greatly reduced the production cost of one clean burger to approximately $10, a far more reasonable price. It is predicted that when clean meat products go to market, they will be priced similarly to their farmed counterparts, within at least 30% of the cost. This price is expected to further reduce over time as clean meat becomes more accepted and more popularised among society. Furthermore, it is likely that the price of clean meat will be subsidised due to its environmental benefits, while traditionally farmed meats will be taxed, making clean meat a cheaper option in the future.

Will it taste the same? The answer to this question depends on the individual. The cells that make up clean meat are no different to the cells in living animals, so theoretically they should produce similar (if not identical) flavours. However, convincing society that meat produced in a petri dish will taste the same as meat from a farmed animal is not going to be easy, and how people feel about the meat industry is likely to affect their opinion on the taste of clean meat.

What will happen to the current meat industry? It won’t disappear. It will just be scaled down instead of up. There will still be animals farmed for purposes other than slaughter, and perhaps a small amount will still be grown for producing ‘gourmet’ traditional meat, but this would be more expensive for consumers than clean meat.

When will we be eating clean meat? Would you believe that one company aims to have their clean meat products available for purchase later this year? Yes, 2018! It will be prepared in some restaurants and sold in certain supermarkets. Depending on the response from consumers, more companies are likely to follow suit and start releasing a variety of clean meat products over the next few years and clean meat could be more common than traditional meat within a few decades. If the response to this clean meat movement is negative, the farming of meat will continue to grow, global warming will be accelerated, and more innocent animals will be slaughtered for food. Meanwhile, hunger will increase along with the global population. So when you are offered lab-grown meat for the first time, graciously accept and enjoy it. The world needs this to happen.

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