Many vegetarians chose their diet choice for ethical reasons. Many are opposed to the way animals are kept in crowded, unsanitary conditions and are killed in large amounts to feed us. Many also point out that world hunger problems could be alleviated if many of us switched to a vegetarian diet. Meat production costs a lot of resources. It makes up about 18% of all of our greenhouse gas emissions. This doesn’t even include methane and nitrous oxide, which are even more powerful in warming the global climate than carbon dioxide. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, livestock consume 7 times more grain than humans in the United States. They also found that about 25 kilocalories of fossil fuel are used for every 1
kilocalorie of meat that is produced. Finally, 1 kilogram of meat requires 100 times more water than it takes to produce 1 kilogram of grain. With a rising population and a rising demand for meat in developing countries, we find ourselves looking at an unsustainable process.
However, in 2013, the world saw a new option. Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University unveiled a hamburger that was grown in a lab using stem cells. This burger cost $330,000 at the time, but since then he has improved the process and has brought the price down to around $10 per burger with hopes of lowering it even further though scaling up production.
To make this work, a small sample of muscle tissue is first removed from an animal. Naturally, when muscle tissue is damaged, it is repaired by a type of stem cell, called myosatellite cells. These cells work to grow back muscle tissue. The scientists have to be separated from the tissue and put it optimal conditions to multiply and differentiate. When cells differentiate, it means that they take on different functions, and then they form muscle fibers and proteins. These muscle fibers make up tissue, and over 20,000 of these tissues were put together to make this hamburger.
Lab-grown meat would be dramatically more economically friendly. Synthetic beef uses 45% less energy than farming real cattle. It produces 96% less greenhouse gas, and it uses 99% less land.
But this first burger was just protein. This artificial meat did not have fat or blood, which gives a hamburger a lot of its flavor. So, Post and his fellow scientists plan to add lab grown fat cells into the mix of the meat in order to give it flavor. Post also looks for ways to produce the meat in greater quantities at a time. This would require a way to deliver lots of oxygen to the cells to keep them all growing at once. He also wants to get this product in stores within the next five years. But first, the product will be required to be tested by the Food Standards Agency
This is a revolutionary idea that would change many aspects of our world as we know it if it is successful. It would change the face of agriculture, eliminating the large amounts of space, food, water, and animals needed to meet the meat needs of the public. It would also change our planet’s environment by reducing our output of greenhouse gas, animal waste, and again would decrease our land usage.
A problem that could face this movement is whether or not this would become socially acceptable. An instinctual fear of unknown and strange things is present in our society. Many people are currently wary of other genetically modified foods. The public must be able to be confident that this meat is safe. As Post identified, the taste must be good as well for this to become the new norm.