With vegetarian options like Linda McCartney, Beyond Meat, and Gregg’s vegan sausage rolls, the need for slaughterhouses and livestock is becoming obsolete. For vegetarians that miss the taste of meat, not only are plant based alternatives available, but potentially now synthetic meat too. ‘Cultured meat’ is gaining recognition as an approach to supply meat without further damaging the environment.
Cultured meat uses less land and water, in effect emitting less greenhouse gases than livestock. Although there has been some debate on whether manufacturing cultured meat on a large scale would produce more greenhouse gases than livestock farming (due to the potential amount of energy used by labs,) the overwhelming consensus from the information we have so far is that it would be far more of a sustainable option. 2019 study, ‘Climate impacts of cultured meat and beef cattle’, suggests ‘as cultured meat is an emerging technology, wider improvements in efficiency of production may reduce its emissions footprint in the future.
Although ‘synthetic meat’ doesn’t kill or harm animals, the process involves extracting stem cells from the tissue of an animal and then developing those into muscle fibres. So despite being cruelty free, cultured meat technically isn’t vegetarian. This raises questions for some vegetarians on whether it would be morally wrong to eat cultured meat. This depends on an individual’s reasoning for their diet, be it for the environmental benefits or the moral dilemma of eating animals.
The concern of cultured meat being ‘unnatural’ is questionable due to how unnatural processes like factory farming are. Not to mention the processes involved in producing dairy products. Cultured meat could be seen as more natural through not tempering with the animal it sources cells from, unlike factory farming which breeds and modifies animals to produce more meat or dairy. This also makes cultured meat healthier as no hormones or diseases are carried through the animal. This, in part, is why another name for this innovation is ‘clean meat.’ A phrase made to make the product more appealing to the public without misleading them on its contents. The animals are also put under anaesthetic during the small biopsy of extracting the tissue, further preserving the cruelty free component.
Since the production of cultured meat is still on a small scale due to a continuation of research and development along with a lack of funding, it’s hard to say when it will be available to purchase in stores. The price of cultured meat could vary depending on its demand from consumers and further investments into the industry. When asked how much a ‘clean’ burger would be, cultured meat manufacturer, Mosa Meat, said: ‘We calculate the current price of a hamburger to be €9 when the process is scale to industrial size. The cost of a hamburger in the supermarket is around €1, and with further efficiency improvements the price could come down to that level in the next decade. Ultimately, cultured meat should be cheaper than livestock meat given its production will be more efficient.’
Despite plant based substitutes for meat becoming increasingly ‘realistic,’ this need for products to resemble meat may become unnecessary in a future without livestock, as the distance between meat and sustainable alternatives may grow and fray away from a desire to see your food bleed. Although plant based diets are the optimum way to live sustainably, cultured meat covers the transitional stage through carnivorous hunger by providing a substitute livestock meat.
By Louise Pam
GSI Intern, July 2019