Lab-Grown Meat on the Horizon

Meat is undeniably a staple of the American diet, and most don’t give the ecological and ethical implications of meat production a second thought. A more thoughtful dietary approach, however, is on the horizon in the form of lab-grown meat – sometimes referred to as “shmeat” or cultured meat. This product is created in a lab and does not require the killing of animals. Aside from animal welfare concerns, what are the motivations behind this experimental enterprise? Conservation concerns related to animal agriculture loom large, and include deforestation, biodiversity loss, and climate change. According to the UN FAO report Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions – a higher share than transport. What’s more, the sector produces 37% of anthropogenic methane emissions, with methane possessing 23 times the global warming potential of CO2 (p. xxi). There are about 229 million acres of federal grazing land in the USA, 10 percent of the nation’s land area.

 Source: Luke Kingma and Lou Patrick Mackay (http://www.instagram.com/futurismcartoons)

The promise lab-grown meat holds for helping maintain healthy ecological systems is staggering. Imagine a future society where animals are never killed for human food, forests aren’t cleared for pasture, and methane emissions are slashed. This scenario is beginning to look increasingly possible through the research and marketing of companies like Memphis Meats, Mosa Meat, Super Meat, and Impossible Foods. Cultured meat is expected to be commercially available in less than five years as production is scaled up.

One of the major concerns, at this point, is the higher cost of shmeat when compared with conventional meat. However, prices have already dropped dramatically: Lab grown meat prices have dropped an astounding 30,000 times in less than 4 years, and are now only three to four times more expensive than ground beef.

Education and marketing may be the key to bringing lab-grown meat more into the mainstream. The ecological (as opposed to purely economic) cost of steaks and burgers could be included in shmeat marketing campaigns. Such edu-marketing, moreover, could be gradually ramped up as continued research helps develop a better and cheaper product. The future of meat, while unknown, has a greater chance at being eco- (and animal-) friendly as a result of the lab-grown alternative. — Leif A. DeVaney, Ph.D. (deva0052@umn.edu)

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