Are you struggling to eat less or no meat for a more sustainable lifestyle even though you really enjoy the taste of cheeseburger and fried chicken? If the meat is cultured in a lab, producing less greenhouse gases but tasting just like the real meat, will you have it instead?
In 2013, a Dutch team of scientists claimed to have produced the first burger made by the meat grown in a lab. After that, more industries, like Yyson Foods, one of the biggest US meat processors, have started to invest in the lab-grown meat. It’s very likely that you can find it on the shelf soon when you’re shopping in your favourite supermarket.
What is lab-grown meat and why should we care?
It’s always reasonable to ask what the product is and what the benefits are before buying something new.
Lab-grown meat, also known as clean meat or cultured meat, refers to the way to produce animal protein by growing stem cells collected from animal tissue in a medium. Without harming any animals, the process cultivates stem cells into a mass of muscle tissue ready to be consumed.
The process may sound weird, but how does it taste anyway? A lady who has tried the cultured chicken in some lab said it tasted like a real chicken nugget. You can find more here.
So, what benefits can we obtain from consuming lab-grown meat?
According to FAO’s report, about 18% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were produced in the process of farming livestock. Around 80% of all agricultural land are used for grazing and feed production. Problems, like global warming, deforestation, water pollution, and food insufficiency, becomes increasingly severe with the growing demand for meat products.
Meat products in Aldi, by Yue Li
But imagine if most of us shift from eating real meat to eating lab-grown meat, what will happen? Theoretically, we can get more land to produce food to serve ourselves directly whilst producing less GHG emissions, especially methane. We may also not need to worry about animal welfare.
It does sound like a good option, isn’t it? Some scientists from University of Oxford would say hang on, it’s not the whole picture.
The magic cure or the Pandora’s box? The answer is unknown.
Researchers from University of Oxford argued in the long term, cattle farming in some cases may cause far less warming than cultivating the meat.
Because most of GHG emissions produced by cattle industries are methane which can only remain in the atmosphere for 12 years, while the carbon dioxide emitted in the process of manufacturing lab-grown meat will persist and accumulate for millennia. If the lab-grown meat production is energy intensive, the situation can go much worse.
Furthermore, since the lab-grown meat is so new, there’s few information about its health outcomes. What nutrients does it contain or lack? We don’t know the answer.
As scientists are still exploring ways to manufacture lab-grown mean fast and cheaper, we’ll look forward to more findings about the environmental impacts and health outcomes of the lab-grown meat from third-party organisations before we make decisions.