With a new global focus on food security and the challenge of feeding a growing population in a social climate where animal welfare, ethics, environmental impacts and the spread of zoonotic diseases need to be taken into consideration, could artificial meat be the answer? Moreover, would you eat it?
But first things first: what is artificial meat? There are two types: plant-based (so-called ‘fake meat’) and animal tissue (known as ‘clean meat’), both artificial, both lab produced.
Plant-based proteins have been around for a while now and are ever increasing in popularity, but a shift to lab-grown plant proteins aims to decrease the carbon footprint of current production processes while allowing better control over nutritional components. The lab-grown animal tissue has been a focus of science for decades – I’m not referring exclusively to clean meat here; think artificial organs, limbs, and other human tissue.
So far, the one thing holding back the rise of artificial meat is the viability of scale-up. Fake meat appears to have overcome this, with one US company reportedly producing 1 million pounds (almost 500,000 kg) of ‘plant meat’ per month,1 and it appears that the scale-up of clean meat is not far behind. Earlier this year, the world’s first lab-grown chicken and duck were presented to the world with a handful of taste-testers were on hand to deliver their verdict.2
So, how willing were consumers to embrace the artificial meat revolution? There are few studies on this, but a 2015 study assessing the validity of the arguments used to justify the need for artificial meat (food security, animal welfare, environmental issues) found that of the more than 1800 scientist and student participants, more than half thought artificial meat was a viable alternative, but only 5–11% would recommend or accept eating it over conventionally produced meat.3 Moreover, most of these ‘educated’ participants believed that lab-produced meat would not be accepted by consumers in the future, although 38–47% supported research into artificial meat production.
A more recent paper looking at attitudes toward artificial meat in a more representative population of participants also found that very few believed artificial meat would replace farmed meat in their diet.4 Only one-third of respondents were probably or most definitely willing to eat artificial meat regularly or replace it with farmed meat; however, most were willing to give it a try.
Participants from both studies were also dubious about the taste, safety and nutritional value of artificial meat.
Although the consumption of artificial meat as a replacement for farmed meat seems a somewhat distant pipe-dream (or a futuristic nightmare), there are a handful of companies focusing on large-scale production, with one even predicting availability within the next 5 years.2
- Kolondy L. Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown says VCs need to ask harder scientific questions. https://techcrunch.com/2017/05/22/impossible-foods-ceo-pat-brown-says-vcs-need-to-ask-harder-scientific-questions/. 2017. Accessed September 2017.
- Kreitman N. Meat without slaughter: what are the steps to scale? The Futures Centre 2017. https://thefuturescentre.org/articles/17039/meat-without-slaughter-what-are-steps-scale. Accessed September 2017.
- Hocquette A, Lambert C, Sinquin C et al. Educated consumers don't believe artificial meat is the solution to the problems with the meat industry. J Integr Agric 2015;14:273–284.
- Wilks M, Phillips CJC. Attitudes to in vitro meat: a survey of potential consumers in the United States. PLoS One 2017;12:e0171904. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0171904.
This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of the Australian Veterinary Journal