Humans could be eating the planet towards a world without forests. If the global population and demand for meat continue to grow as predicted, all-natural vegetation would need to be used to farm food. Governments, researchers and businesses are working hard to develop ways to avert this seemingly dystopian future.
One potential solution involves shifting diets to consuming less meat. It turns out producing meat requires significantly more land and water per calorie than crops and vegetables. But, how can you get enough people to become vegans when they love meat?
A new third way is emerging and it’s called cultured meat. Here we give you a lowdown on this latest BioTech trend.
What is cultured meat?
Cultured meat involves extracting muscle cells from a living animal, and growing them outside its body until you get meat. The cells are grown in a nutrient-rich culture, hence the name. Millions upon millions of cells multiply inside a bioreactor before a big enough clump can be taken out, cooked, and eaten.
Biotechnology researchers and start-ups are working on cultured meat versions of beef, lamb, pork and fish. Unstructured meat is the easiest type to develop using the process, e.g. burgers or mincemeat. However, companies are also working on structured, layered meat, like steak, or chicken breast.
Cultured meat requires only a fraction of the water and land of conventional meat. And one living animal, say a cow, can be used to provide thousands of kilograms of burgers. The idea is that people can continue enjoying meat, without the associated impact on the environment.
There are also benefits to animal welfare: not a single animal needs to be slaughtered.
What about the taste?
Those who have tasted cultured meat thus far – and there haven’t been many – say it tastes almost the same as conventionally produced meat. This bodes well for an emerging technology looking to ensure most of the world’s land doesn’t get covered in farms.
That said, it will be a while before cultured meat makes a big impact. The first burgers should be available in shops and restaurants in the next couple of years, but they will be expensive, to begin with.