Listen to article
Non-slaughter meat options are fast gaining popularity. Imagine eating a piece of meat that was fully ‘lab cultivated’ in test tubes or gigantic steel bioreactors. No bones, no blood, no risks of ingesting E. Coli, Salmonella, and other pathogens. Just a chunk of meat that did not cost one more cow or chicken its life. Well, as of December 2020, this was already possible in Singapore. You could order a serving of chicken nuggets and find out they taste a little different from the regular because they were made with cultured chicken.
Although lab-grown meat is said to have been first harvested around 2011, researchers have made notable progress in polishing the innovation to spike the initial low receptivity. From zoonotic risks to climate change and even cost-effectiveness, key industry players seem to have made a long list of the benefits of adopting non-slaughter meat. Two years after the first lab-grown meat was harvested, a Maastricht University professor, Prof. Mark Post, made the first burger with cultured meat. This was not particularly welcomed, the reluctance to adopt this new type of meat lingered for over a decade.
However, with the biggest cultured meat plant set to be completed in the United States by 2024, the pushback against non-slaughter meat is clearly winding down. Although lab-grown meat is currently undergoing tests and awaiting the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) endorsement, investors are very optimistic about it. The heavy investments in non-slaughter meat only points to its prospects. One does not need to be an economist to infer that there will always be a market for meat. From burgers to sausage rolls, to chicken nuggets, to other regular meals for which most people often have some meat component.
According to World Counts, the global consumption of meat stands at about 350 million tons per year. Statistics further reveal that, “by 2050, global meat consumption is projected to reach between 460 million and a staggering 570 million tons. 570 million tons would mean a consumption of meat twice as high as in 2008.” The question is, are our farm animals sufficient to meet the growing meat needs of the world? With more intensive animal farming systems that rely heavily on improved feed and hybrids, is the agricultural sector well-equipped for the next three decades? Unfortunately, the answer to these questions don’t seem to be in the affirmative.
Read Also: Butchers To Shut Down Meat Market In Abuja
It is in the light of the above that many researchers continue to call for sustainable agriculture and food systems. The question of how to put food on the table without jeopardizing the environment is commonplace in such discussions. Today, lab-grown meat is getting more attention because of its promise to offset the environmental implication of slaughtering thousands of cows and chickens to meet the growing meat needs of the world. While lab-grown meat takes only 6 weeks to produce hundreds of kilograms of meat, regular animal husbandry would take months to achieve the same results.
Clearly, with more countries getting set to join Singapore and other early adopters of this new technology, it is not out of place to brand lab-grown meat the “future” of meat. Companies such as Good Meat and Future Meat are in the forefront of this. They maintain that the meat they “harvest” using this technology has an identical nutritional profile with regular meat. The science behind the process is known as regenerative medicine. It often begins with harvesting ‘quality’ or prolific cells from animals. Testing for their fecundity and placing them in a growth medium containing 20% foetal bovine serum or alternatives. The cells are nourished with vitamins, proteins, and other nutrients to enable to them replicate every 5 hours.
What is more interesting about this process is that the harvested parent cells are immortalized and can infinitely produce meat. Though the key industry players and researchers at the forefront of this, maintain that it is (Genetically Modified Organism) GMO-free and healthy, there are factions of the meat market such as Islamic and Jewish religion devotees who would be less likely to embrace it. Also, the debate about its contribution to offsetting climate change problems is on. Some environmentalists opine that energy required to cultivate lab-grown meat releases more greenhouse gasses compared to traditional farming. Some maintain that lab-grown meat is inherently a capitalist proposition.
While the debates are on, researchers seem not to be resting on their oars. They continue to make progress from having lab-grown meat as sausages to actual chicken breasts, wings, etc, made through 3-D printing. There are speculations that in the near future, the line between regular meat and cultured meat will eventually blur out. Are our animal farmers about to be replaced? Are the days of ranching and open-grazing about to come to an end? Will chicken feathers, cow horns, and hoofs, soon become some sort of artifacts and antiques, only seen in museums?
The coming years definitely have some surprises for all of us.
Ehi-kowoicho Ogwiji is the Head of Communication & Public Engagement at Café Scientifique Woman. She is a storyteller and natural scientist who is given to advocacy for a science-literate Africa. Ehi-kowoicho aspires to be a renowned science communicator and STEM thought leader in Africa and beyond. She writes from Abuja, Nigeria.
Follow her on social media @ogwijiehi or email her at [email protected]