Will Eating Meat be Obsolete?
Well, no. The chances of the human race going meat-free are roughly the same as Tony Abbott ever becoming Prime Minister again, no matter how many onions he eats. We have eaten meat; we have tasted the forbidden fruit. For too long we’ve enjoyed succulent salmon, juicy steaks, and delicious chicken drumsticks. There’s no closing the box on the human psyche. But can we do meat better?
‘Clean’ lab-grown meats have come a long way, following Moore’s Law on steroids: prices were almost 30,000 time cheaper in 2017 than 2013. At this rate the meat industry is set to be transformed by 2021.
I eat meat. I try not to; I don’t like feeling guilty and I want to help the environment, but it’s just so dang tasty that sometimes I stuff that guilt deep down and rip into a burger. I wish I had an ethical, environmentally advantageous option. To me, lab-grown meats are a godsend.
Who else is it for?
There are many vehement supporters of meat eating, who claim it’s natural and healthy. Opposite them, vegans believe eating meat is unnecessary in the modern age and unethical.
Either camp would probably agree that replica meats, identical to the real thing but not carved off a dead animal, are a happy compromise – especially if they’re cheaper.
The Steak Situation
Lab-grown meats are pure muscle, grown from animal cells. They have no contaminants or heavy metals. But they also don’t have fat, connective tissues, blood, or salts. These things are important to the experience of eating some meats, notably steaks. Some can be compensated for, others not so much. Lean duck thigh has been done; fatty duck breast is a long way off.
You won’t be able to buy every meat from Woolies or Coles, at least not yet. But making the change as soon as we can is still important. Steaks will just have to come later.
What makes lab-grown meats so exciting?
Lab-grown meats are plain cool. Robots making meat? It’s future stuff, now.
More importantly, less animals in fields means less methane in our atmosphere, reducing one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. Not resulting in dead animals is pretty cool, too.
That’s not to say lab-grown meats are perfectly ethical. It still has to be grown from animal cells, and while this is a magnitude of order more ethical it isn’t 100% cruelty free.
Some Muslims also say they won’t eat lab-grown meat as it isn’t Halal. The opposing argument is that the idea of Halal is to approach eating meat ethically, so lab-grown meats are extra Halal. We’ve yet to see how this one plays out.
Not everyone wins
Some people, perhaps even countries, will be hurt by the advent of publicly available lab-grown meat. One such country is Australia.
The change won’t come overnight but the lab-grown meat market will disrupt the farming industry. While many will see this as a boon during a time when record numbers of regional citizens move to cities, it’ll lead to tough times for many hardworking Aussies.
Mammoth for lunch
Meanwhile, there are some intriguing questions being asked. Can we grow the meat of endangered animals? Extinct animals?
The answer is yes, if we have cell samples. Tiger burgers, white rhino shanks, and even mammoth steaks could be on the menu. They aren’t a priority, and as human tastes likely no longer include such animals we probably won’t see them for a long time.
How about Galapagos tortoise, the meat so tasty it took decades for sailors to bring one back to England without eating it on the way? Maybe sooner.
Lab-grown meat is coming, and it’s going to be expensive. Then it’s going to be cheap. You will eat it. Your neighbours will eat it. Perhaps one day we’ll even look back at farmed meats as barbaric and wasteful, an unnecessary luxury.
When will you try your first lab-grown burger? Will you be able to tell?