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?

A multitude of meats could be on the menu. Photo credit stux via Pixabay.com, OpenClipArt-Vectors via Pixabay.com

‘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.

Steak’s a way off. Photo credit OpenClipArt-Vectors via Pixabay

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.

A Victorian farm: soon to be a relic? Photo credit Marvin10 via Pixabay.com

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.

The future

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?

11 Responses to “Will Eating Meat be Obsolete?”

  1. Gaurav says:

    Great post! I was actually planning to write about this. Guess you beat me to it 😛

  2. Hugh Rayner says:

    Wish I’d had space to talk about imitation meats! Super exciting, I’ve tried some and they’re fantastic. With stuff like the Beyond Burger, I think imitation meats might be going mainstream before lab-grown meat gets the chance. I’ll be eating both!

  3. Hugh Rayner says:

    It’s already being introduced now, so I don’t think 2021 is a bad estimate for more mainstream introduction. The estimate comes from a few place, but mostly from business’s plans to start stocking restaurants and supermarkets by that date (see Mosa Meat). It won’t be widespread, but I think it’ll be the start of a shake-up.
    A slow introduction is probably necessary as, like you say, there’s a lot of marketing to be done to get people to trust it.

  4. Hugh Rayner says:

    I’m worried about the same thing – distrust of science-improved food is only growing, I think. The first to make it to market will have a big role in forming public opinion.

  5. Hugh Rayner says:

    Thanks, I think it’s a pretty revolutionary time in the field. Lots of research being done, and some real results coming out. Only wish I could have included more about how they do it, but a lot of it is just rumours and company secrets.

  6. Hugh Rayner says:

    Thanks, and same here! Might be tough to get dinosaur samples though…

  7. Kieran Christopherson says:

    Really cool post.

    “Robots making meat? It’s future stuff, now” made me proper lol in my bed, and the notion of extinct meat is something super interesting that I hadn’t yet considered.

    I’d try pterodactyl once, just to see.

  8. Thanks for an excellent article. I read a lot about fake meat when it was in the news a couple of moths ago but your piece still managed to include some and interesting information.

  9. I’m personally very excited about lab-grown meats! I don’t even eat meat but it just makes so much more sense!

    It’s environmentally more efficient, for a variety of resources: water, food, land etc. It solves the ethical issue, but as well, imagine the sorts of GM work you could do with this. We just have to be careful how we go about advertising “GM” meat…

  10. Jeremy Robinson says:

    I know “schmeat” is a good idea. However, would the evidence really suggest 2021 as a true estimate for it’s introduction? What with introduction to the market, manufacturing, advertising and production requirements. Additionally, there can be all sorts of social backlash, as has happened with GMO’s.

  11. Henry Duffield says:

    Lab grown meat is truly an exciting prospect! As you said, it is the most likely method by which we will be able to reduce the suffering and environmental impact caused by the animal agriculture industry.
    I’ve been vegan for a couple of years now and while I don’t struggle with it too much, I am often heavily tempted when meat is in front of me [particularly chicken – roast chicken, fried chicken, whatever]. In saying this I can’t see myself going back to eating meat – although I wonder if that would be different if lab grown meat was available.

    Biotechnology also may offer the solution to other cruelty free animal products – a start up a few years back was attempting to modify yeast to produce the proteins within cows’ milk so that it could be used to create ‘Real Vegan Cheese’. While I think the company ended up failing, I don’t see why the product could one day be created.