What is the Lab-Grown Meat Industry?


Elyse Weaver, Staff Writer

Vegetarianism and veganism have been on the rise for decades, drawing people in for both health and ethical reasons. As the global percentage of nonmeat-eaters has risen, the demand for meat substitutes has also grown.
The demand for meat substitutes has been partially supplied by various proteins and food specifically designed to taste like meat, such as Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger. However, labs worldwide are attempting to grow meat from different animals’ stem cells. Lab-grown meat could be revolutionary for vegetarians, as it is structurally the same as traditional meat but lacks many of the ethical drawbacks.
The meat industry is notorious for the cruel conditions its animals are housed in, as well as its devastating impact on climate change. The beef industry releases gigatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere yearly and destroys forests to expand. Lab-grown meat doesn’t require killing animals, won’t breed mass amounts of cattle, and won’t need nearly as much land as traditional meat. It’s also free of the antibiotics present in many commercial meats, so it is potentially healthier to consume. The product seems like a dream come true.
However, the present state of the lab-grown meat industry is far from the guilt-free production line many people wish for. Acquiring stem cells does involve hurting an animal, although many companies apply an aesthetic to the contact area. For some vegetarians, though, this process may prevent them from justifying consuming meat.
Another issue is its exorbitant cost. Building facilities sterile enough for bacteria, sourcing amino acids, and expanding companies enough to reach price parity are huge financial endeavors. Buying the food for a balanced diet, especially on the budget most people have available. The current price lab-grown meat could sell at is completely unattainable for the average person. Still, upscaling companies enough to lower costs is entirely possible with enough investors, meaning lab-grown meat can eventually be sold at an affordable price.
However, the most significant issue with this product may be its potential carbon footprint. Currently, many companies producing lab-grown meat use a biotechnical approach similar to the production of many pharmaceuticals. The problem with this, found in a UC Davis study, is that for the bacteria’s growth to be purified to pharmaceutical levels, companies will have to use enough resources to produce about 25 times the average CO2 level of traditional beef.
This isn’t the only method to produce lab-grown meat, however. If companies switch to food-grade ingredients and cultures, the purification process will be substantially less resource-costly.
Lab-grown meat is a fantastic step for both vegetarians and food scientists. Although it currently has a litany of issues, the industry is still very new and rapidly working towards making lab-grown meat available to everyone.