The Story and Fallacy of Synthetic Meat
In 1931, Winston Churchill predicted that "we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium". That prediction is coming to fruition day by day. Due to pressure coming from finding ways to feed a rapidly-growing population that craves meat in every single meal, while also finding ways to acquire said meat in a way that does not damage the environment any further, many universities and start-up companies have started to invest in research of synthetic meat. Synthetic meat is meat that is acquired from cultivating animal cells extracted from live animals, instead of having to slaughter the animals to get meat. The process of growing synthetic meat begins by taking tissue samples from the animal the cultivator wants. The next stage is that stem cells get extracted from the tissue samples. In the 3rd Stage, the stem cells are put in a bioreactor and are grown into muscle fibres. In the final stage the muscle fibres get merged and finally become meat. Additional stages include adding fat and connective tissue cells to make the meat taste more like steak or chops, instead of tasting like lean minced meat.
The first muscular fibres were produced in 1971, by Russell Ross. But the process for making edible synthetic meat was not created until 2001, when dermatologist Wiete Westerhof, medical doctor William van Eelen, and businessman Willem van Kooten, announced that they had filed for a worldwide patent on a process to produce synthetic meat. In the same year, NASA began conducting experiments to make synthetic meat out of turkey cells, finding ways to produce synthetic meat in space so that astronauts can grow their own meat in space instead of using up important storage space in satellites. In 2002, the NSR/Touro Applied BioScience Research Consortium grew a fillet made out of goldfish cells. In 2003, Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr from the Tissue Culture and Art Project of Harvard Medical School exhibited, and cooked, and ate a "steak" made from frog cells in Nantes. In August 5, 2013 the first synthetic beef burger patty, created by Dr Mark Post and scientists from Maastricht University, was shown in a news conference in London. It was made from over 20,000 strings of muscle tissue, cost $300,000, and took around 2 years to produce. The burger was cooked by Chef Richard McGeown of Couch's Great House Restaurant, and tasted by critics Hanni Rützler, a food researcher from the Future Food Studio and Josh Schonwald, a food writer. Rützler stated that "There is really a bite to it, there is quite some flavour with the browning. I know there is no fat in it so I didn't really know how juicy it would be, but there is quite some intense taste; it's close to meat, it's not that juicy, but the consistency is perfect." Since then, many start-ups and organizations dedicated to developing synthetic meat have been founded like JUST, inc., Memphis Meats, Finless Foods, BlueNalu, and Fork & Goode, all of which are part of the Alliance for Meat, Poultry & Seafood Innovation, which is a coalition of companies wanting to create a market for synthetic meat.
The population is predicted to be around 9-10 billion in 2050. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that in the next 40 years the demand for meat is going to increase by more than two-thirds and the current production methods for getting meat will not be able to supply that demand. To add to that, livestock agriculture in general is bad for the Earth and even people. It is estimated that around 850 million people around the world do not have enough to eat to survive and starve. While these people starve, 800 million tons of grain is fed to livestock, which is more than enough grain to feed these suffering people. Scientists from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency predict that 2.8 billion hectares of land (about 26% of the world's ice-free land) are currently used to house and grow crops to feed livestock. Animals from factory farms are kept in cramped, unclean areas and as such are fed antibiotics daily. These places carry the risk of creating new antibiotic-resistant bacteria and viruses, which can lead to many deaths. One last thing to note is that the meat industry produces about 14.5 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. While it might seem small compared to how much greenhouse gas other industries emit, it is still concerning because the meat industry is the top producer of methane, a greenhouse gas that becomes 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide after only twenty years after its release into the environment. Synthetic meat can be the figurative stone to kill the numerous figurative birds that the meat industry creates. It requires less land, less resources, less likely to create a new epidemic, and does not emit greenhouse gases. Synthetic meat also gives us other benefits. Many people find the act of slaughtering an animal to be disgusting, but also like the taste of meat. Synthetic meat can solve their predicament.
Synthetic meat does have its problem, though. A research conducted by researchers from the Oxford Martin School found out that synthetic meat could actually be worse for the environment than conventional meat. The conclusion of the study is disputed, though, as the researchers did not look at land or water usage by factory farms. Despite that, one thing is certain. Currently, synthetic meat has some of the same problems as conventional meat (lots of resources required, unethical practices to harvest the product, etc.) while being more expensive and having worse taste than conventional meat. A lot of people argue that plant-based meat (meat made out of plant matter, like soy or chickpeas) is a much better alternative to conventional meat, as it has none of the problems of synthetic meat or conventional meat and is cheaper.
Regardless of the issues, synthetic meat will appear in stores in 5 to 10 years, according to Peter Verstrate, CEO of Mosa Meats. Consumers make or break a product, and so far, it is not looking good for synthetic meat. According to a survey committed by the BBC, only 20% of people in the UK would eat synthetic meat if given the choice. It is possible that the reason why the amount of people that would eat synthetic meat is low is because most people believe in "the naturalistic fallacy", a misconception in which people believe that all natural things are good and all unnatural things are bad. Other factors could also influence people, like the pricing, taste, and other reasons. The consumer makes or breaks any product. Only time will tell whether or not synthetic meat becomes a boon for humanity and gastronomy in the future, or it becomes a footnote in history, like TV trays. I personally hope that synthetic meat becomes popular and replaces conventional meat, but hopes remain as wishful thinking if people do not want to act on it.
Writer is a student and