The Future of Meat Has Arrived

chicken bitesThis is a big deal. Chicken bites are made from meat grown in a laboratory.

The “chicken bites”, produced by the US company Eat Just, have passed a safety review by the Singapore Food Agency and the approval could open the door to a future when all meat is produced without the killing of livestock, the company said.

This is not just a whiz-bang technology designed to make someone a lot of money. The planet really needs an alternative to the mass production of livestock.

Recent studies show that if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change, beef consumption needs to be reduced by 90% in western countries. The farming of livestock accounts for 18% of human produced greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. This is more than all emissions from ships, planes, trucks, cars and all other transport put together. It takes  25 kilograms of grain – to feed a cow – and roughly 15,000 litres of water. About  30% of the earth’s land surface is used for livestock farming.

Lab-grown meat is an efficient alternative:

…once scaled up its manufacturers say it will produce much lower emissions and use far less water and land than conventional meat.

So Eat Just’s chicken bites, to be sold in a shop in Singapore, is a first giant step forward in our quest for a sustainable planet. A variety of other companies are at work growing beef and pork in the lab.

Of course, people will have to choose to eat lab-grown meat instead of meat from livestock. This article also indicates the taste is different without going into the details of how it is different. This is the main obstacle—does it taste like conventionally grown meat. According to some reports lab grown meat has a taste and texture identical to conventionally grown meat. Since it is indeed real meat, tweaks to the process should produce a palatable product.

Others have argued that the “yuk factor” is a major obstacle. Muscle-specific stem cells are taken from an animal and are encouraged to self-organize into muscle tissue, which is then grown in the lab, eventually finding its way to your plate. Although it is biologically identical to meat that comes from a cow, pig or chicken, a room full of oozing, bulging “flesh plants” is not particularly appetizing. But a slaughterhouse isn’t either. I doubt the“Yuk” factor objection will be a serious obstacle. Test-tube babies are real persons, cars manufactured by robots are real cars, seedless fruits are propagated using a culturing process, so why not manufactured chicken or beef? If it’s affordable and tasty plenty of people will buy it cutting the demand for livestock generated meat and eventually sending commodity livestock farming into a death spiral.

Of course, that will be the real obstacle. A lot of people around the world earn their livelihood through livestock production. We can add meat production to a long list of products transforming the nature of work.

But this development, although limited today to a small company set to operate in Singapore, is a big step forward and one we should celebrate.




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