Growing meat in the lab, rather than slaughtering animals, could become a viable alternative for people who want to cut the environmental impact of their food consumption, but cannot bear a vegetarian lifestyle.
According to scientists from Oxford University and Amsterdam University, lab-grown meat could help feed the world, while reducing the impact on the environment. It would generate only a tiny fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with conventional livestock production.
The procedure of growing meat without an animal would require between 7% and 45% less energy than the same volume of conventionally produced meat such as pork, beef, or lamb. The meat labs would use only 1% of the land and 4% of the water associated with conventional meat and Greenhouse gases would be reduced by up to 96% in comparison to raising animals.
The scientists predict that if more resources are directed towards their research, the first lab-grown burger could be available in five years. It is their plan to start with mincemeat, while hoping to be able to produce steaks in ten years time.
Aside from its predicted environmental benefits, lab-grown meat should also provide cheap nutrition and help improve animal welfare. As millions of people in rapidly emerging economies such as China and India are rising from poverty and become able to afford more meat in their diets.
From a consumer perspective, one of the biggest questions open is what the lab-grown meat should look like. Hamburger, comical chicken leg, dinosaur nugget, raptor in a wrapper or design steak. Arguably, lab-grown meat needs to gain an artificial authenticity to become appreciated by consumers as a desirable alternative, rather than an inferior derivative of animal-grown meat.
The research team based their calculations on a process using the bacterium Cyanobacteria hydrolysate as a nutrient and energy source for growing muscle cells.
The anti-meat organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is already funding research into the technique.