If you love food, as many of us do, you must have heard of the 'farm to fork' movement. This is a social movement which promotes serving local and fresh food at restaurants. However, are you familiar with 'lab to table'? And what do you think about that? 'Lab to table' does not sound as incredible as 'farm to fork', but it might be the solution for the future: zero animals are killed, but we create a mass production of lab-grown meat that looks and tastes the same as regular meat. Besides, lab-grown meat could also help the environment, because there is way less food waste in the process. Can we produce meat in labs? Is this how our future will be?
A dream from the past
The idea of lab-grown meat is not something of recent events but has been around since decades. It was actually Winston Churchill, who had the idea. He took a look at the culinary prognostication. Churchill thought that, within 50 years, we do not need to grow a whole chicken to only eat the breast or wing, and that can be accomplished by growing single parts on their own.
The man was right. Of course, this is not something to do quickly, but the idea has been shaped. In 2013, the Dutch pharmacologist and Professor Mark Post of Vascular Physiology showed the first lab-grown burger. In the lab, he used animal cells, without actually killing an animal, as a food source. From that moment on, clean meat has taken interest from many people and entrepreneurs. Since then, many companies copied the idea and are working on the technology to make clean meat better, so they obtain a small number of animal cells from high-quality livestock animals to duplicate the taste, the texture, and the ability to efficiently self-renew.
Benefits of Lab-grown meat
Not everyone is looking forward to this process but let us mention the benefits of why we should go for lab-grown meat. First of all, many animals are poorly treated, they live in unfortunate circumstances, and we eat it in spite of how it is produced. Moreover, food waste also has a prominent role in this matter. We do not use every part of an animal, so lab-grown meat could grow some elements that we do eat.
Livestock animals produce 15 per cent of global gas emissions, according to the United Nations. That is not the only problem; livestock animal production uses a large amount of water, while toxic substances used in agriculture can enter natural waters, destroying habitats, animals and plants in the process. According to Post, one of the most devastating consequences of livestock farming is massive deforestation. For example, around 70 per cent of the Amazon rainforest has already been deforested for grazing. The production of farmed meat is expected to consume 99 per cent less land so that areas could be reforested again. Also, the traditional meat production is very inefficient: it is unnecessarily expensive, unnecessarily damaging to the environment, causes unnecessary animal suffering and will in its present form be challenging to meet the growing human demand for meat.
There are still some challenges we need to overcome. On the scientific front, challenges remain around the reproductive capacity of the used cells, and there must be a reducing difference between "clean meat" and "traditional meat". Then there is the issue of large-scale production systems, which costs a lot. And of course, how do you sell this kind of meat instead of the "real" ones? A consumer might not like it, because it is produced in labs and not by an animal. Organic food is much more appealing, but what do people think about eating protein that is grown in a laboratory? And it should be as affordable and tasty as its traditional meat counterpart. Scientists are aware of this problem but are confident to solve this. "It takes time", Post said.
Does it help the environment?
Researchers from the University of Oxford have the idea that lab-grown meat actually could be worse for the environment than livestock farming. There are a lot of uncertainties around the large-scale meat production, what it looks like and what it tastes like. Therefore, we need to invest in the production of large-scale meat production. This means we have to deal with physical effort and energy requirements to produce this lab-grown meat. So, we are still on the journey at the start of this new kind of meat.
Are we eating lab-grown meat in the future?
Yes, that could be the case. But for now, it is still in the future, because we have to overcome a lot of challenges. Do not think you can buy lab-grown meat in the supermarkets any day now. For now, plant-based alternatives are substitutes for lab-grown meat or traditional meat. In this plant-based alternative, you also find protein, an impressively accurate meat-like texture and taste. Just keep hoping and waiting and in the future, we will have plant-based and/or cell-based products, because they are more sustainable, efficient and way more humane.
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