By Jack Hornsby
If you are a health conscious individual who cares about the environment, but still loves meat there really aren’t too many options. Obviously factory farming is awful for both the animals it rears and for the environmental impact that it has. Recently, however, there has been some very encouraging news from the lab grown meat industry that has me thinking that someday very soon I won't have to choose between supporting immoral factory farming and completely stopping eating meat altogether.
History of lab grown meat
In the 1950’s a Dutch scientist named William Van Elen came up with the idea of growing meat in a lab setting after having seen the horrors of food shortages caused by World War 2. While the technology just was not available that far back, this idea got the ball rolling on lab grown meat. Fast forward to the early 70’s and a scientist successfully cultured a Guinea Pig aorta, but even still, lab grown meat for consumption was a long way ahead, even with this progress. Finally in 2013 the first beef burger patty was made in a lab, but there was a catch. This first lab grown burger patty had taken 2 years and $300,000 to create! On top of this, it was only muscle tissue in this patty and no fat, whereas a fairly standard burger is about 20% fat. Critics who tried this first burger said it was “pretty good”, and that it was incredibly close to the real thing. In a little over 7 years since this first lab grown beef patty was created, the lab grown meat industry has seen a relative boom in both technology, sustainability, and investment into it.
Where is lab grown meat today?
I personally try my very hardest to live as environmentally sustainable as possible, but I just cannot fully give up meat, so I keep a very close eye on the developments in the lab grown meat industry. What inspired the writing of this article was a recent development in Singapore, where lab grown chicken bites are going to be available to the public soon, following a 2 year testing stint. These chicken bites underwent rigorous testing to ensure they were safe and of high quality. Now that they have been approved by the government of Singapore they will be available to the public at select restaurants. In these chicken bite’s current form they will be more expensive than their animal- based counterparts, as well as being in much more limited supply. The company that produces these chicken bites has given assurances that within the next few years this product will be more affordable than animal based meats. Almost all other lab grown meat companies are still figuring out how to cheaply and effectively produce their products and get them into the hands of the public. There is one other notable company in Israel producing lab grown meat that is at an advanced stage in their testing and is currently offering samples to the public. As a whole, the lab grown meat industry is generally still developing their product or at least in closed testing phases.
Benefits of using lab grown meat
One of the main benefits of lab grown meat, in my eyes, is ending the process of factory farming. I have seen too many documentaries of the horrible conditions that these animals live in just to give consumers reasonably priced meat. If the rise of lab grown meat products is successful, hopefully that could be the end to factory farming. Even if non lab grown meat is a food source that is here to stay then lab grown meat will push meat producers to go a more organic route and provide better conditions and treatments for their livestock.
I think the absolute biggest potential benefit of the rise of lab grown meat is going to be lessening the environmental impact of raising such large quantities of animals for consumption. Just about every aspect of mass livestock breeding, raising, and consumption has a negative impact on the environment. The amount of land used to raise the number of livestock that humans consume is absolutely enormous. Over 309 million acres is used just for grazing in the U.S., and even more is used for the production of animal feed. Much of the land used for this production is made up of destroyed habitats of other wild animals. If you want to learn more about this aspect of factory farming, I would highly encourage anyone to look at the destruction of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil for cattle ranches. Next, the waste of the animals raised pollutes the land and our atmosphere. Massive amounts of animal waste runs off from these factory farms and runs into the land and water around them, making it not only disgusting, but also unsafe. The real kicker here, however, is that raising animals for human consumption makes up about 15% of all human caused CO2 emissions every single year. Without these emissions climate change, and our planet, would be in a much better place. Finally, it takes an absolutely massive amount of resources to raise an animal to the point where it can be killed for meat. The amount of water and feed used to raise 1 cow to be consumed has a massive environmental impact. Hopefully with the developments in the lab grown meat industry, it can reach a point where it is more energy and resource efficient than factory farming methods.
Concerns with lab grown meat
The first concern that i know i think when discussing the topic of lab grown meat is “is it safe to eat?” Sure, lab grown meat is made by some very smart and educated individuals, but this is such a new development that we don’t even really know what effects that meat grown in a lab could have on a human, as opposed to tried and true regular meat. I personally think this is a well founded concern, but governments around the world are working to address any safety concerns. Most governments that are toying with the idea of having widespread use of lab grown meats in their countries are making producers undergo a long and arduous testing process to ensure the public’s safety when eating lab grown meat. The European Union requires a full 18 month test process, while Singapore requires a 2 year test process.
One of the other biggest concerns about lab grown meats in their current state is energy and resource usage. Back in 2013 when that first lab grown burger was created for a whopping $300,000 - that was absolutely ridiculous, and the resources spent there certainly do not offset the environmental impact that a regular burger would have taken to create. That said, technology has come a very long way since 2013 in the lab grown meat field. With the recent public sale of lab grown chicken bites in Singapore, we’ve seen that it is in fact realistic to get the prices of lab grown meat down into a reasonable range. While the company producing these chicken bites has said that they will be initially more expensive than non lab grown chicken, they are hoping that in the near future the prices will drop. Not only will lab grown meat be affordable, but in the near future it will be MUCH more environmentally sustainable than the factory farming methods that we see being utilized around the world.
Where will lab grown meat be in the next 5 years?
Most lab grown meat companies have a current goal of trying to get their products on store shelves, and in the public’s hands within the next 5 years. It really seems like the technology for lab grown meat is racing forwards - going from a $300,000 burger patty to over priced chicken bites in a restaurant within about 7 years really is amazing when you think about it. While in its current state, lab grown meat is still a couple steps away from being available to the general public. However, so much progress is being made in the industry that we’re only a couple years away from being able to try it, and hopefully be able to buy it at our leisure.
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