Is the future of meat destined for the petri dish?
Much is said about the shift away from meat-based diets, or that we are approaching the day of being beyond it altogether, but what if we simply resort to new ways of sourcing it?
For many, the idea of meat-eating raises as many ethical concerns as it does with regards to health considerations. Over the centuries, we’ve made a habit of rearing animals for the purpose of using their flesh for meat, but generations have pondered whether there could be a better way of accessing it without resulting in the continual suffering of the animals involved.
Meat is a densely-packed source of protein which is impossible to create from scratch or find in plant-based sources of food. This is because collagen, one of the main substances in meat, is a protein only grown for use as connective tissue in animals.
However, innovations abound, which could revolutionise the way we cook. From out of the petri dish and into the pan?
Simple cells in a petri dish
Rather than rearing an animal solely for the purposes of slaughter, businesses are on the cusp of cracking a food innovation – lab-grown meat, created from a cocktail of proteins in a petri dish. Known officially as ‘clean meat’, this type of food would be grown in a cell culture, sourced from original animal stem cells.
This way of effectively growing our own meat could be revolutionary, especially for the environment. That’s because conventional forms of pastoral farming generate a large amount of greenhouse gases. In contrast, a paper by Environmental Science and Technology in 2015 revealed that invitro biomass cultivation, using animal stem cells, could require fewer inputs and land than conventional farming. This could result in us saving a lot of greenhouse gas emissions over time.
Admittedly, the science behind clean meat is in its infancy, and the paper states growing meat in this way would be highly energy-intensive in its own way. To make such meat products viable, it is likely that technology would need to advance to a point where cultivation of invitro biomass could be achieved in an energy-efficient, yet speedy way.
Tangible benefits of clean meat
One of the issues surrounding conventional sources of meat is the risk of contamination. As clean meat is grown in laboratory conditions, it is sterile. This minimises the risk of bacteria being present, which tend to cause food poisoning when consumed. For this reason alone, clean meat could be certainly healthier, from a hygiene perspective.
Arguably the prime benefactors of clean meat are animals often used for livestock themselves. If clean meat takes hold, this means fewer animals having to be reared for slaughter. The rise of clean meat could also usher in innovations such as supplementing such products with healthier plant-based oils in place of the naturally-occurring saturated fats found in actual meat.
The Good Food Institute is already assessing ways to implant healthy vegetable oils into lab-grown meat, to give it a more authentic feel, while offering up a healthier meal. It might just be a matter of time before we can find restaurants and retailers selling lab-grown beef with all the essential nutrients of sunflower or olive oil added.
US-based company Eat Just has been given the green light by Singapore’s Food Agency to make sales of clean meat ‘chicken bites’ – these would be derived from cells taken from healthy, living chickens, whose cells can be cultivated in bioreactors. If such a process could be repeated and done in a cost-effective way, meat production needn’t have to involve any animals being slaughtered or sacrificed in any way.