Lab-grown meat's steady march to your plate
As costs go down and the benefits become more clear, can we afford not to eat lab-grown meat?
- Just a few years ago, the price of a lab-grown hamburger had five figures.
- Today, that price has gone down to just $11.
- Even if it's cheap, tastes the same, and preserves the environment, will people actually eat meat grown in a lab?
As 2018 wraps up, the average American is poised to have eaten 222 pounds of beef over the course of the year. Accomplishing this dubious achievement meant that every American ate the equivalent of 2.4 quarter-pound burgers a day. So, we can safely say that Americans like their beef.
The trouble with this, though, is that raising cows for beef production is expensive. A typical ranching operation (although they can vary wildly) costs about $266,630 per year for a 300-head herd, including feed, rented pastures, machinery, and other costs. You can cut down on costs with a factory-farming model, but the increased risk of disease and pollution, and the reportedly cruel nature of factory farms make this less appealing.
Regardless of how beef cows are raised for farming, the environmental impact of cow herds is still problematic. Cow farts and burps might seem like a ridiculous concern at first blush, but they contributed 119.1 million tons of methane to the atmosphere in 2011. And keep in mind, methane is about 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide when it comes to heating up the planet.
But we love beef! Some people can probably be persuaded to go vegetarian, vegan, or simply stop eating beef, but not nearly enough to make the right kind of impact. This begs the question: can we have our beef and eat it too?
The benefits of a lab-cooked meal
In a future where most of us eat lab-grown beef, one has to wonder what would happen to all of the cow herds we currently have. Image source: pxhere.com
Lab-grown beef may very well be the path forward. In 2008, it was estimated that just half a pound of lab-grown beef would cost $1 million. Then, on August 5, 2013, the first lab-grown hamburger was eaten. It cost $325,000 and took two years to make. Just two years later, the same amount of lab-grown beef costs about $11 to make.
Lab-grown beef checks almost all of the boxes: it doesn't require animal cruelty, and a study in Environmental Science and Technology showed that it could cut emissions from conventionally produced meat by up to 96 percent and cut down on the land use required for meat production by 99 percent. In the U.S., where cow pastures take up 35 percent of available land — that's about 654 million acres — this could be huge. Imagine having 647 million acres for development, housing, national parks, anything at all!
But does lab-grown beef pass the most crucial test? Does it taste like an honest-to-goodness hamburger? After all, if the cost of beef today doesn't have us converting to vegetarianism in droves, why would we change our behavior for yet another food product that doesn't quite pack the same umami punch?
The taste test
Well, the 2013 lab-grown burger apparently tasted a bit dry. One taste-tester described it as tasting "like an animal-protein cake." So, not very appetizing. However, this isn't a fundamental feature of lab-grown meat, it's a technical problem. As our techniques have improved, so has the taste of the burger. Today, you can even buy lab-grown meat yourself. Mosa Meats and Memphis Meats both sell artificial meat, and the latter was even funded by Bill Gates.
But even if lab-grown meat tastes like the real thing, there's still an aversion to the concept. In article for Engadget, one person said "Cultured meat just isn't normal. […] It's not. There are all kinds of technical reasons why this is not normal." Another said she wouldn't eat lab-grown fish because, "It's disgusting."
To be fair, lab-grown meat does conjure up images of tanks full of fleshy material bubbling away, but it's important to remember that physically, lab-grown beef will be indistinguishable from the real thing. Beef and other meats are a material, like any other, and there's no reason why the source of this material should affect its nature. And there's a strong argument to be made that slaughtering cows to harvest their meat is quite a bit nastier than growing meat in a lab — farms are rife with germs that farmers use a panoply of antibiotics to combat them. In a sterile laboratory, this issue wouldn't be present.
How it works
Image source: Shutterstock
Learning how the meat is actually produced may put some people's mind at ease. Lab-grown meat starts by taking a small sample of cells from a living cow, so it's not actually an artificial, synthetic product; it all starts with stem cells from the animal in question. Stem cells differentiate into a variety of cells throughout the body. Most lab-grown meat production uses myosatellite stem cells, which become the various tissues in muscles.
Then, the stem cells are placed in a medium containing a protein that persuades them to turn into muscle tissue rather than anything else, along with the nutrients they need to grow. A cow does the same process, only it eats feedstock and its body turns that into the appropriate nutrients. The sample is placed in a bioreactor similar to those used to make yogurt or beer. A scaffold made out of an edible material is also included to encourage the meat to grow in the right shape.
You let the whole batch cook for a while, and pretty soon, you've got ground beef. The question is, will we eat it?
- Which world leader predicted lab-grown meat in 1931? ›
- Lab-Grown "Clean Meat" is Almost Here. Will You Eat It? - Big Think ›
- Lab-Grown Meat's Main Obstacle is Quickly Disappearing - Big Think ›
- Price of Lab-Grown Burger Falls from $325K to $11.36 ›
To create wiser adults, add empathy to the school curriculum.
- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
- Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
- Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?
Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways.
Just before I turned 60, I discovered that sharing my story by drawing could be an effective way to both alleviate my symptoms and combat that stigma.
I've lived much of my life with anxiety and depression, including the negative feelings – shame and self-doubt – that seduced me into believing the stigma around mental illness: that people knew I wasn't good enough; that they would avoid me because I was different or unstable; and that I had to find a way to make them like me.
A joint study by two England universities explores the link between sex and cognitive function with some surprising differences in male and female outcomes in old age.
- A joint study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher cognitive abilities in older age.
- The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted.
- The differences in testosterone (the male sex hormone) and oxytocin (a predominantly female hormone) may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age.
Mathematicians studied 100 billion tweets to help computer algorithms better understand our colloquial digital communication.