I recently attended the University of Oxford’s Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP) Conference, which included a fascinating panel discussion of attitudes towards lab-grown food, specifically with regard to cultured meat and how the use of such products may be encouraged.
An analysis of Twitter responses discussing cultured meat found a polarisation of views on the matter. On one side, there are the potential benefits in reducing animal cruelty, food shortages, and reduce the spread of disease from animals to humans. Research has also suggested that lab-grown meat could have potential health benefits, with the potential for products with no saturated fat or growth hormones – important considerations to note given the current strains on global healthcare systems. On the other hand, there is a perception that measures (such as a meat tax) to incentivise the consumption of lab-grown products is an infringement upon freedom, with diet seen as a highly personal choice. This pushback comes with a counter-narrative about these products being non-natural, in addition to having to contend with religious rules and cultural traditions relating to meat.
Further to the current issues of public perception, cultured meat products also come up against the hurdle that although the replacement of livestock would reduce methane production (a short-lived greenhouse gas), the industrial production of these products would increase CO2 production (conversely, a long-life greenhouse gas). There is the possibility that this could be counteracted by the use of renewable energy to power the production process, although there is still some way to go in the area of renewables before sufficient supply for this is available. However, although the production of lab-grown meat powered by renewable energy may invoke the image of a distant future, this situation may not be too far off – with a growing push for both renewable energy and alternatives to conventional meat products.
There are several obstacles that any artificially produced meat product will need to overcome in order to be successful when the technology required to mass produce lab-grown food becomes available. However, the possibilities here are exciting and I keenly await hearing about the developments in this area.