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Cultured meat: How it's made, where to find it, and the impact on the environment and society

Cultured meat: How it's made, where to find it, and the impact on the environment and society

Experimental food

Text: Brandon Alexius Chia


Image: Instragram | @aliceturner_design
Image: Unsplash

The benefits of eating clean have fast become a global norm these days. We're talking about healthier bodies, skin, and mental wellbeing as a result. Take plant-based meats as examples, these were originally dissed as lousy and less tasty alternatives for animal products but it is now being consumed all around the world by non-vegans and non-vegetarians.

Towards the end of 2020, another form of alternative meat — cultured or lab-grown meat — captured the attention of news outlets and foodies worldwide. Food company GOOD Meat became the first in the world to have its cultured chicken — created from actual cells from chickens — approved for sale and human consumption here in Singapore. The company is also working towards creating other meats that do not involve slaughter, antibiotics, and displacing animals from their natural habitats. Yes, you read that right, this is the future of food, and we know what you're thinking: "How can meat be grown in a lab?"

Cultured meat is made from harvesting muscle cells from livestock, cows in particular, by scientists. These scientists then feed and nurture the cells, allowing them to grow bigger and bigger into muscle tissue. Once it reaches maturity, it will look like the meat that we find in supermarkets and it will be ready for cooking.

Perhaps this resembles some sort of weird science experiment from a movie that goes awry, but reviews of cultured meat say otherwise. Volunteers of various experiments have claimed that cultured beef does taste like the real thing and that the texture trumps plant-based beef as it is closer to the original.

After coming across a design concept by Alice Turner, a machine that could easily fit in any kitchen to make our own cultured meat, we started thinking. What if everyone in the world consumed nothing but lab-grown meat?

Apart from satisfying our hunger, cultured meat can play a part in the world's movement towards environmental sustainability. When we discuss greenhouse gases and their detrimental impact, we don't think of animals as contributors. However, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, 14 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions are from livestock.

Of course, we can't blame animals for breathing and passing gases such as methane – this is how cultured meat can help. If more people start adopting it, the demand for real meat will decrease, thus less livestock will be reared to meet the amount needed for the world's consumption.

Similarly, with fewer livestock farms, there would be more open land for countries to expand and build offices, housing, entertainment facilities, and more – potentially reducing the costs of living. Not to mention cutting down on the risk of diseases associated with the animals we eat today.

Before COVID–19 dominated the world, various strains of the bird flu were discovered every few years — and still are till this day. If we had started eating meat that is grown in a sanitised environment earlier, these diseases wouldn't be plaguing us today. Let that sink in.

Cultured meat: How it's made, where to find it, and the impact on the environment and society (фото 1)

Now, back to reality. Sure, there are a lot of positives related to this but we also need to consider the negative impact it will bring if people moved to cultured meat. On one hand, fewer animals will be slaughtered but on the other hand, thousands of farmers would lose their jobs.

It is important to remember that most of the workers follow a long line of predecessors who have only dealt in livestock their entire lives – some of them grew up on those farms. Imagine losing your home that has stood there for generations.

Also, good quality meat boils down to what the animals are fed. Scientists are not able to feed muscle cells grass and wheat, they are more likely to use chemicals and this brings up the ethical issues with genetically modified organism foods. Regular consumers would not have the luxury of knowing what happens behind the closed doors of a lab. If we aren't likely to eat engineered corn with multiple colours, we don't think GMO meat will cut it.

Cultured meat: How it's made, where to find it, and the impact on the environment and society (фото 2)

It will take years before cultured meat hits markets on a global scale and due to this, it will be an expensive commodity that few can afford to eat daily. With all that has been said, this begs the question: Would you be willing to venture into this new and unknown territory for the sake of the environment? Just some food for — thought pun intended.