Lab-grown meat. It doesn’t sound particularly appetising, but the alternatives are becoming rapidly unsustainable.
According to an ABC report, Australia has become the latest country to join the emerging lab-grown meat industry, which so far has been dominated by food-tech start-ups in Israel, Europe, and California's Silicon Valley.
While no commercial products of this kind have yet been released on to the market, there is a growing push for the development of lab-grown meat, which many see as a solution to the needs of the world’s ever-growing population and burgeoning demand for food.
Several Israeli startups have joined a handful of companies around the globe trying to develop “clean meat” that markedly reduces environmental damage caused by mass farming.
The product has been known under different names, including - cultured meat, in-vitro or artificial meat and “clean meat” — a term proponents say reveals its environmentally-friendly nature. It’s basically made of animal muscle cells grown in a culture in a lab, a technology similar to stem cells.
According to the ABC report, two Australian companies, Heuros in Brisbane and VOW in Sydney, are aiming to make meat grown from animal stem cells in a laboratory a commercial reality.
While they can easily produce the meat in a laboratory setting, the start-ups still have not solved the mystery of how to scale up to large factory-size commercial production, the ABC reported.
Advocates say lab-grown meat is full of flavour and better for the environment than traditional meat, because it consumes less water and energy, produces fewer greenhouse gases and eradicates animal suffering. It also counters the ingestion of countless hormones by consumers, the effects of which are not yet known.
If you look at the statistics of livestock farming on the environment, they are indeed too big to ignore.
According to a report from The Conversation, it contributes to land and water degradation, biodiversity loss, acid rain, coral reef degeneration and deforestation. It contributes 18% of human produced greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. This is more than all emissions from ships, planes, trucks, cars and all other transport put together.
Who wants to be part of such a system?
One encumbrance that is yet to be resolved involves the cost of producing lab grown meat. Even though the meat can be easily produced in a laboratory setting, the start-ups still have not solved the mystery of how to scale up to large factory-size commercial production and make it widely affordable.
According to the ABC report, Heuros founder Nick Beaumont said: "We could maybe supply the material to make a burger-sized piece of meat for $30–40, so we are close but it is not quite comparable to the cost of traditional meat yet. The more we produce, there will be economies of scale and hopefully we can improve the price of the product."