Lab-grown meat is finally here(ish). After years of research and development, companies like Good Meat and Upside Foods have received approval from the USDA to start producing and selling their cell-based chicken products in the United States.
So, what exactly is lab-grown meat? In a nutshell, it’s meat that is grown from animal cells in a controlled environment. The cells are taken from a living animal but not slaughtered. Instead, they are grown in a bioreactor, which is a large tank that provides the cells with the nutrients they need to grow, such as amino acids.
Benefits over traditional meat
Lab meat has several potential benefits over traditional meat. First, it is more humane. Animals raised for food are often subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment. Lab-grown meat eliminates the need for animal slaughter, so it is a more ethical way to produce meat.
Second, lab-produced meat is better for the environment. Traditional meat production is a major contributor to climate change. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), livestock production accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. These include:
- Methane emissions: Methane is a potent greenhouse gas produced by ruminant animals, such as cows, sheep, and goats. These animals produce the gas as they digest food and release it through burps and farts.
- Land use change: As more land is cleared for grazing and crop production, forests are destroyed, which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
- Nitrous oxide: It’s produced from fodder production for livestock. Nitrous oxide is a more potent greenhouse gas than methane and can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years.
Lab-produced meat, while still energy-intensive, produces significantly fewer greenhouse gases.
Third, lab-grown meat can be customized to meet the needs of individual consumers. For example, people allergic to certain foods can have lab-grown meat free of those allergens.
Lab meat could help to address the problem of food security. As the global population continues to grow, the demand for meat is also increasing. Lab-grown meat could provide a way to meet this demand without increasing the number of animals raised for food.
Lab-developed meat could also help to improve food safety. Traditional meat production can be a breeding ground for bacteria like E. coli. On the other hand, lab-grown meat is grown in a controlled environment, making it less likely to become contaminated.
Cost of production: The cost of producing lab-grown meat is still very high. This is due to the cost of growth media, the liquid broth in which the cells are grown. Growth media is typically made from animal cells, which is expensive. The cost of bioreactors, the vessels in which the cells are grown, is also high.
Scaling up production: Another challenge is scaling up production. For lab-grown meat to be commercially viable, it must be produced at a large scale. This is a challenge because the cells need to be grown in a very specific environment, and it is difficult to maintain this environment at a large scale.
Consumer acceptance: Even if the cost and scalability challenges can be overcome, there is still the challenge of consumer acceptance. Some people may be hesitant to eat lab-grown meat because they are unfamiliar with it or concerned about its safety.
Regulation: Lab-grown meat is a relatively new product, and some regulatory hurdles still need to be overcome before it can be sold to consumers.
Developing methods for growing muscle and fat cells together: To create meat similar to traditional meat, it is important to grow muscle and fat cells together. This is a challenge because muscle and fat cells have different growth requirements.
Creating a process that is efficient and scalable: The process of growing lab meat needs to be efficient and scalable to be commercially viable. This means that the process needs to be able to produce a large amount of meat in a short period.
Lab-grown meat has the potential to be a more humane, environmentally friendly, and customizable way to produce meat. As technology improves, lab-grown meat will likely become more affordable and accepted by consumers.
The future of meat is bright, and lab-grown meat is playing a leading role. As technology improves, lab-grown meat is likely to become more affordable, accepted by consumers, and available in more stores. This could profoundly impact how we produce and consume meat, and it could help make the world more sustainable.
What do you think about lab-grown meat? Are you excited about the potential benefits, or are you concerned about the challenges? Let me know in the comments below.