Many people have become vegans or vegetarians either due to ecological or personal reasons. Animal cruelty and exploitation is a big part of today’s agriculture and many people actively decide not to take part in that and instead choose to live on a plant-based diet. Other than that our need for meat plays a big part in our environment as I shortly explained during my review of Adam ruins going green.
But the way we think about meat may change in the nearest future. In 2013 Dr. Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands presented the first hamburger created in a lab. Several media outlets covered it and food critics tasted it. Their judgement sounded that it tasted just like regular meat, which inspired other scientists to replicate Mark Post.
Memphis Meats in the San Francisco Bay Area is currently working on crowing artificial meat from cows in their labs. The idea behind the company is to help the environment and bring down the many negative side effects we currently face with our meat production. Regular meat is often filled with bacteria, hormonal growth injections and antibiotics, which has turned out is actually rather dangerous for humans. Other than that it is estimated that it takes 23 calories of grain to make one calorie of beef, which cannot be classified as sustainable in any way.
Growing meat in a lab could in theory be efficient enough to supply the global demand for meat.
The process of growing meat in a lab begins with the starting cells. These starting cells are taken painlessly from an animal and put into a culture media, where they rapidly begin to grow and expand in numbers. In order to produce a three-dimensional meat product, the cells would need a scaffold and preferably one that didn’t need to be removed after production.
The scaffold would also have to periodically shift its form to simulate the stretching that muscle cells undergo, while being part of a living creature.
There is some discussions about which cells should be selected as starter cells. Stem cells would work, since these cells have yet to decide which sort of cell they are going to end up to be. They also proliferate, grow and expand, rapidly. However, very specific cells are needed for the production of artificial meat. The problem is that specific cells, which already has ‘ a job prescription’ as for example bone cells and tissue cells, do not proliferate rapidly, which is needed when growing meat in a lab.
A hurdle the scientist currently face is how to produce complicated types of meat as for example steak. A steak is made of muscle tissue, which is threaded with fine and extremely long capillaries that transport blood and nutrients directly to the cells. It is more difficult to produce such a
complex structure compared to processed meats as for example sausages, burgers and nuggets.
When is it coming out?
Well, so far no meat-growing lab has figured out how to start the cell culture process without using fetal bovine serum, which comes from unborn calves. Until they have figured this out do not expect to see artificial meat in your grocery store anytime soon.
Uma Valeti, the CEO of Memphis Meats, remains however optimistic and has claimed that be will be able to replace the serum with something plan-based in the nearest future.
The cost of producing lab-grown meat is also rather high and was at a total of $325.000 in 2013, when Mark Post first produced his hamburger. But now the price has already fallen to about $18.000/pound in the Memphis Meats labs. Both Mark Post and the people behind Memphis Meats believe that they in time, they will be able to make the meat affordable for the common man.
Memphis Meats also believe that within the next half decade or so they will have a product in the stores. An optimistic Uma Valeti has said; “We believe that in 20 years, a majority of meat sold i stores will be cultured (artificial)”. If this turns out to be true, our children and grandchildren will find it normal to eat artificial meat. But what about us? Will people be able to adapt to this new kind of meat? We are already discussing GMO’s and their is just something a little off-putting about the sort of eating meat grown in a lab.
Another interest aspect to this is the vegans and vegetarians. How will they react to this new modern meat? Will they classify it as meat and since meat is meat, it therefore cannot be eaten? Will we stumble upon a whole new sort of vegetarians, who will only eat the artificial meat grown in labs?
I am in the beginning of my own vegan-experience and I do personally not see a problem with eating this meat. I would eat it myself, if the option was there. This new artificial meat does not harm animals and the process will, according to Uma Valeti, produce 90 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional agriculture. This is definitely progress I can stand by.