Scientists and businesses working full steam to produce lab-created meat claim it will be healthier than conventional meat and more environmentally friendly. But how much can they improve on old-school pork or beef?
In August 2013, a team of Dutch scientists showed off their lab-grown burger (cost: $330,000) and even provided a taste test. Two months ago, the American company Memphis Meats fried the first-ever lab meatball (cost: $18,000 per pound). Those who have tasted these items say they barely differ from the real deal.
The Dutch and the Americans claim that within a few years lab-produced meats will start appearing in supermarkets and restaurants. And these are not the only teams working on cultured meat (as they prefer to call it). Another company, Modern Meadow, promises that lab-grown “steak chips” — something between a potato chip and beef jerky — will hit the stores in the near future, too.
For some people there’s an ick factor to the idea of lab-grown meat, but its backers say that cultured meat may help alleviate the environmental and health challenges posed by the world’s growing appetite for conventional meats. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that the demand for meat in North America will increase by 8 percent between 2011 and 2020, in Europe by 7 percent and in Asia by 56 percent.
Meanwhile, a 2011 study calculated that growing meat in labs would cut down on the land required to produce steaks, sausages and baconby 99 percent and reduce the associated need for water by 90 percent. What’s more, it found that a pound of lab-created meat would produce much less polluting greenhouse-gas emissions than is produced by cows and pigs, even poultry.
Yeta 2015 life-cycle analysis of potential cultured meat production in the United States painted a less rosy picture if one includes the generation of electricity and heat required to grow the cells in a lab.