Listen up, vegetarians!
Researchers at Oxford University are predicting that lab-grown meat may be available for public consumption within the next five years. The first samples will likely bear the texture of mincemeat, but replicating the consistency of steak will take much longer.
‘Lab-grown’, ‘cultured’, and ‘in vitro’ all refer to meat produced in the lab via tissue-engineering methods.
An alternative to conventional livestock production, lab-grown meat would positively impact the environment, provide cheap nutrition and improve general animal welfare.
Recent research reveals that lab-grown meat would use only 1% of the land and 4% of water exhausted in conventional livestock production. Its production process could also cut greenhouse gas emissions by a staggering 96%.
In 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization reported that livestock production comprises 18% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, an even steeper percentage than that of the transportation sector.
Moreover, they predicted that global meat consumption would nearly double by the year 2050.
Researchers are now considering lab-grown meat a possible solution for an eventual shortage of protein, especially for countries with swelling economies like China and India. Lab-grown meat may also diminish the phenomenon known as “land grabs,” where growing countries purchase farmland from poorer ones.
The process that will render lab-grown meat edible is a long ways from perfect. Thus far, scientists have succeeded in growing thin strips of muscle tissue in a culture of cyanobacteria hydrolysate, a bacterium that provides nourishment and energy necessary for stem cell growth.
The general consensus among scientists working on the project is that more research funds would expedite the meat’s cooking process.
In 2008, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) boldly announced that it would grant $1 million to the first person able to produce edible, marketable, lab-grown chicken by 2012.
Recently, it agreed to provide funds for the project along with New Harvest, a nonprofit organization.
Whether lab-grown meat will replace livestock is still undetermined, but what’s clear is that cultured meat is no longer just flavorful meat with a lot of culture…
Mali Wiederkehr, Science & Technology Editor