Mankind has been consuming meat since the stone age and our ancestors ate any animal that they can get their hands on. However, science has found a way to produce meat without killing a single animal. How? Through lab-grown meat. This new “meat” production option is constantly receiving public attention, in recent times.
What is lab-grown meat? As the name suggests, the meat is grown in laboratory rather than from raising and slaughtering livestock. Is lab-grown meat any different than traditional meat? Both are biologically similar however the source of these meats is different as lab-grown meat is harvested in the lab whereas traditional meats are from animals that are raised and slaughtered particularly for meat.
Lab grown meat is only possible with the use of stem cells which are the building blocks of muscles and other organs for the specific animal of interest. Consider an example of lab-grown meat from cows, researchers will start the process of creating cultured meat from cow’s stem cells by placing it in Petri dishes with all the necessary nutrients that will allow the muscle cells to grow. When sufficient muscle fibres have grown, we will get ourself a lab-grown beef.
The purpose of lab-grown meat is to reduce or replace conventional ways of producing animal meat. The production of conventional meat causes many negative effects on humans and the environment, making lab-grown meat as an alternative to reduce these effects. In the livestock industry, water pollution is a common issue as animals’ waste is washed into the nearby water source. Water pollution will not only affect animals but also humans that are dependent on the water source for drinking. The contaminated water can cause various health issues, including headaches, runny noses, and diarrhoea in humans. Besides, clearing lands for farming causes many trees to be cut down, which contributes to the production of greenhouse gases which are factors of climate change. This makes lab-grown meat to be eco-friendly as they require 45% less energy use, 99% less land use, and produce 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to the production of traditional meats.
One might wonder, what drives the demand for lab-grown meat globally? Lab-grown meat is capable of creating a more sustainable global food system as it reduces animal slaughtering as well as, the significant pressure on food systems, contributed by the negative effects of conventional meat. Lab-grown meat can also solve the food security issues related to the growing human population.
To date, Singapore is the first and only country to approve lab-grown chicken meat produced by a US-based company for the consumption of the public. Although many countries are still considering lab-grown meat, some of these countries have taken the initiative to come up with policies and guidelines on lab-grown meat, which is a huge step for the lab-grown meat industry. Many claim that lab-grown meat cannot replace conventional meat as the production of lab-grown meat is expensive and produces less meat compared to traditional meat. The recent advancement in science proves this wrong as researchers are able to produce different types of lab-grown meat, such as chicken, duck and lamb for reasonable prices, and down the road the prices are expected to reduce to be similar or lower than the price of conventional meat.
The nutritional content of lab-grown meat can be controlled by researchers during the production of the meat. Growing meat in labs allows researchers to add the necessary nutrients and control the fat content, which allows lab-grown meat to not only be nutritious but also a healthier substitute of conventional meat. This is because lab-grown meat does not contain saturated fats and growth hormones, which are commonly found in conventional meat, that cause heart diseases, diabetes, and cancers.
The lab-grown meat industry is booming because of the advancement of science and in just a few years, we could see ourselves ordering lab-grown meat from restaurant menus and enjoying it.