LEAP Conference 2020: Is lab-grown meat the future?

At the recent Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP) Conference with the University of Oxford, I was very interested to hear about the benefits of lab-grown or cultured meat in a talk by Professor Burkhard Schafer. I also found Professor Schafer’s discussion of some of the issues in bringing cultured meat products to the market highly illuminating. 

Lab-grown meat can be grown through the replication of a small number of animal cells to produce a meat product that is the essentially same as a conventional meat product in all but its source. This brings with it the benefit of bringing no harm to any animals in the making of the product.

Additionally, this also brings the benefit of reducing the risk of disease transfer between animals and humans (a process known as zoonosis) which as I am sure you are aware is now a particularly important concern – the world and it’s healthcare systems having experienced the dangers this can bring. Although currently produced on a small scale at eye-watering cost, if the process of producing cultured meat can be industrialised it would also have the potential to solve food shortages. 

Despite the wide range of benefits that cultured meat could bring, Professor Schafer also identified a number of possible barriers that these products may meet in coming to the market. For example, the religious and cultural conventions associated with meat, possible health and safety concerns, and the likely stubbornness of the conventional meat industry are all likely to be at issue. In the case of the latter, a similar issue was seen when margarine was first brought to the market in the late 19th century and it seems likely similar resistance would be met here. 

After this talk, I’m fascinated to see how the technology in this sector progresses to allow for mass production of cultured meat products, and also how the potential barriers to the market are overcome.