Lab-Grown Meat: Taking a Load off Mother Nature’s Plate.

Photo by Seth Tisue |

With every passing day, our loving Mother Nature approaches a looming tipping of the scales, where it will be essentially exhausted of its natural resources unless progressive and definitive action is taken. With steadily rising populations, global food demand is likely to push nature to its limits, with the meat industry undoubtedly to be one of the first to crumble under overwhelming demand and particularly unsustainable practises.

Today, the world’s 1.5 billion livestock occupy 70% of the total arable land, and are responsible for 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The statistics are quite crappy: In the USA alone, cattle dung deposits 64 million tons of raw sewage into bodies of water such as the Mississippi River. 

Recently, however, the scientific community is a stir with the proposition of a revolutionary concept which hopes to solve bleak projections with one fell swoop, by reducing water waste, freeing up arable land, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and potentially saving billions of dollars and innocent animal lives.

In a quiet laboratory at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, vascular biologist Mark Post works tirelessly on his foremost project: using stem cells to cultivate life-like meat in the laboratory for human consumption. Though the technology is constantly developing and extremely new, early projections suggest that stem cells from a single living animal could cultivate the equivalent of millions of animals’ meat.

Early attempts at recreating meat, however, have lacked largely in comparison to the succulent cuts we see today. Despite this, developers are hopeful; although the idea may appear to be flirting with science fiction, it is in fact largely on the reality side of the feasibility tug-of-war. By the year 2012, researchers hope to have ready the first (palatable) processed meats, such as sausages and hamburgers.  

In the near future, they hope to combine the ideal medley of growth factors, vitamins and nutrients to replicate realistic taste and texture, thereby creating more complex meats such as steaks and fish fillets, while at the same time having the freedom to supplement meat with additional nutrients and omit harmful saturated and trans fats, among other health culprits.

Imaginations have even stretched far enough to consider the potential of sampling ‘designer’ meats for which sufficient DNA is available for cloning, which may include exotic animal meat and perhaps, the recreation of the flesh of extinct animals. Maybe, just maybe, the not-so-distant future may bring the enjoyment of dino-burgers at leisure, a prospect which may scare more than a few. Of course, such a move would inevitably bring with it wide-spread ethical implications.

As a silver-bullet approach, however, the idea has gained much traction within certain scientific camps and throughout animal rights groups; in 2009, PETA offered a prize of $1 million for the group that develops the first commercially viable in-vitro chicken solution. Perhaps Sir Winston Churchill said it best when he, quite eerily, predicted a similar situation with which we are faced today in one of his 1932 essays: “Fifty years hence, we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium."  

For now, it appears the possibility is within our hands; yet the outcome, however, remains largely unseen. For our sake, let’s hope the future doesn’t place too much on Mother Nature’s plate.