The animal industries are fighting the use of the word "meat" being used for the product. That brings up several questions.
The earliest attempts at tissue culture occurred in 1885 when a German zoologist, William Roux, grew out tissues from a chicken embryo in a warm, briny solution. No matter how you slice it (and whether or not one swallows it) "meat" is processed tissue from an animal. How it's processed is seemingly the issue and whether or not it was an animal that was ever alive.
More than 30 years ago, people balked in the grocery store when they first started seeing things regularly like "turkey bacon" or, God forbid, "soy bacon." How can that be? Doesn't bacon come from pigs?
Again, it is an issue of processing. Beyond meat, as traditionally defined as being harvested from a living animal, further processing produced things like bacon, ham, cold cuts and whatever luncheon meat is. Those are meat products.
Now, however, we are talking about an industry that may arise where meat is grown in a medium and deposits on an edible scaffolding. The new terminology calls it the alternative protein market. Will people eat it? The answer seems to be yes, if the price is right.
It's no secret that increasing GDP in any country increases protein consumption. From 2016 to 2030 global GDP is projected to grow by $38 trillion. That in turn is expected to generate a 46 percent (140 million ton) increase in meat and poultry consumption, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.
The first meat patty produced in a lab would have sold for an estimated $330,000. Now, some five years later, estimates are that it may cost only $11 with a heavy dose of bitter regulatory red tape before it gets to market. In 2014, Pew surveyed folks among whom some 80 percent said they would be reluctant to eat meat grown in a lab.
In 2017, however, a third of all people surveyed by Pew said they would eat "clean meat regularly or a replacement for traditional farmed meat." A study published last year by Matti Wilks and Clive J.C. Phillips in PLOS One found nearly two-thirds of respondents would give "in vitro meat" a try, all things being equal.
While the folks running cattle on pasture are bucking to try and get such stuff outlawed, quietly at least, the big players in the industry are cozying up to the concept. One of the start-ups is Memphis Meats, and it has seen investments from both Tyson Foods and Cargill. Bill Gates and Richard Branson have invested $17 million in Memphis Meats, according to CNN.
Environmentalists are screaming IVM would do less harm to the planet. Maybe and maybe not. The fact is, no one knows for sure yet.
So what will hold people back from eating IVM? Wilks and Phillips found 79 percent said it would be the taste and 24 percent would have ethical concerns. Price came in third at 20 percent. Health concerns by consumers were only at 4 percent. Safety was at 3 percent, tied with religion.
So conceivably if the lab boys and girls get the taste right, something that crippled early vegetarian burgers, most folks are in so long as the price is not too high.
Curiously, respondents said they were most unlikely to eat IVM fish and less likely to eat IVM from terrestrial species.
Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you'd like to read about, email firstname.lastname@example.org.