Nobody is happy with the meat industry. It’s cruel, expensive and harmful to the environment. It takes about thirteen pounds of grain to produce a one-pound hamburger, which has a huge carbon footprint. It also requires about one five hundredth of a cow to be reared and killed in squalid conditions and costs far more than the same nutritional value in chickpeas or eggs.

If no one ate meat, grain prices would fall to make it easier for the poor to survive. It will also reduce CO2 production and make the world a much kinder and lusher place. What would be good, except that the meat tasty, and no one leaves him without a fight. So what are we going to do about this dilemma?


The UN, in its own unique style, proposed that the first world eat efficient, environmentally friendly insects. In some parts of the world, worms, crickets, flies and beetles are used as staple foods. This plan suffers from a lack of realism.

The insects’ bulky exoskeletons give them a nasty, chitinous texture that is alien to Western palettes. To expect the dietary habits of entire continents to suddenly shift to unpalatable and foreign foods for abstract environmental reasons is simply ridiculous. If environmentalists can’t sell people on the merit of vegetarianism, I’m not sure why they expect cockroaches to be easier to sell.


Meat* revolution

Fortunately, a more practical solution to this problem is in the works in the form of an emerging technology. based on tissue cloning. The technology will be cheap, green, and you won’t have to eat worms. It is called «laboratory-grown meat» and allows you to create animal muscle tissue in an environmentally friendly way without cruelty. The technology is similar to that being developed to create artificial organs. Google founder Sergey Brin is funding millions of dollars in meat development.

Here is an excellent summary of the technology from two years ago:

About a year later, the first lab-grown hamburger (which cost just under US$350,000) was created within three months and fed some professional tasters. Tasters stated that the burgers tasted and felt like meat, although a bit dry. The dryness was caused by the lack of fat cells in the meat, which are more difficult to culture than normal muscle cells. The high cost was that the meat had to be cultured in small fibers to provide access to oxygen and food.

The first burger was a proof of concept and had many caveats: the meat was expensive and the lack of fat limited its taste and nutrition. However, there has been rapid progress since then. Project leader Mark Post estimates that the meat can be produced for about $80 per kilogram, or $36.00 per pound. If you do the math, that means a quarter-pound hamburger patty using lab-grown beef will cost about $9. It’s still almost ten times more expensive than traditional beef, but it’s also a huge jump from that first burger.

There’s also a lot of possible improvements on the horizon. Methods have already been developed to create artificial veins in synthetic organs. The same technology can be used to grow larger (and more structured) cuts of meat, reducing the cost and complexity of preparing lab-grown beef in quantity.


It is also worth noting that the current process is far from mass production. Large-scale production will also allow manufacturers to take advantage of economies of scale to bring prices down significantly. Ultimately, since far fewer raw materials are required, it should be possible to create meat that is slightly less expensive than the natural variety. Dr. Post recently gave a talk to the Cattlemen’s Association in Australia in which he warned them that their business model could be disrupted. from lab-grown meat in the near future.

“I think in 20, 30 years we will have a viable alternative beef industry. […] I think we should seriously consider that this will be an alternative. […] Even if I don’t intend to do it, others will do it at some point. This is an all too obvious possibility. »

In the short term, Post will focus on solving the major technical challenges with lab-grown meat: learning how to grow adipose tissue, increasing yields, and eliminating the animal by-products it uses to culture cells, replacing them with synthetic and plant-based ones. based alternatives. He believes that this work can be completed in the next few years. From there, technology can start using 3D printing technology. to create more structured meats (such as steak) and other meats (including fish, chicken, and turkey).

Will people eat it?

Some people are intimidated by the idea of ​​lab-grown meat. This is a difficult perspective for me to understand. I grew up on a farm and I barely get through the day ignoring what I know about where food comes from. If I knew for sure that my burger was cooked in a sterile bath without any screaming, it would be a huge burden for me. Growing stem cells in a bioreactor using vegetable protein seems less fussy than keeping a feces cow in a concrete cabinet.

Maybe it’s a marketing issue. «Lab Meat» hits some pretty scary buttons for many Americans. Perhaps «zero-cruelty beef» would do better. Or maybe it’s better not to talk about it at all — to disclose the minimum amount of information that the FDA deems necessary, and let cost competition drive acceptance.

Regardless, I hope these issues can be resolved before the technology hits the market. If this technology reached the mass market, it would help many people. Ethical vegetarians can eat meat without guilt — PETA won a $1 million prize for the first company to develop low-cost lab-grown chicken. Conservative Jews and Muslims can eat cloned bacon without worry. When costs fall far enough, poor people who rely on cheap but unhealthy high-carbohydrate diets will have more affordable access to meat, helping to reduce both malnutrition and the obesity crisis.

What do you think? Do you want to eat some cultured beef? Let me know in the comments!

Image credit: Petri dish Via Shutterstock, «Hamburger», from Wikimedia, «Insect Rack», from Wikimedia, «Chicken Farm», from Wikimedia

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