Lab-Grown Meat: Just Another Junk Food?
As climate activists vilify agricultural meat as dangerous to the environment, plant-based meats are popping up everywhere. But there’s another trend on the rise: lab-grown meat. Proponents label it clean meat; others call it synthetic or test-tube meat. Whatever the label, it’s fake. It doesn’t come from a living animal, and it’s definitely not healthy.
For thousands of years, people have taken it for granted that meat comes from animals, but science has recently found a way to change this. Two newer entrants into the field (plant- and cell-based proteins) are both trying to claim the mantle of “meat,” a New Republic article states. Plant-based foods are made by extracting protein from plant foods and adding a myriad of additives (many unhealthy) to make these products look and taste like traditional meat.
Cultured (cell-based) meat companies go further though, angling to destabilize our current understanding of what food actually is. This “meat” is made from animal cells grown in a lab tank (mixed with a cocktail of growth factors) to create a steak or chicken breast.
This has moved from pipe dream to proof of concept to commercial sales relatively quickly, New Republic states. The first prototype beef burger was taste-tested in 2013, while 2020 saw the first commercial launch of cell-based chicken in Singapore.
Now roughly 80 startups are working on lab-grown meat globally, with billions in investments, research, development and production facilities springing up (even in the United States). The Food and Drug Administration has also approved the technology and considers it safe; the power of the climate-change movement backs it 100 percent.
That’s not to say challenges for mass consumption don’t exist. For decades, drug companies have used a similar process with vaccine cells multiplying inside large bioreactors. But the process has always been technical, resource-heavy and expensive—a problem when looking to make cultured meat affordable at a scale for public consumption.
Costs have dropped considerably over the years. The first lab-grown burger cost $330,000 in 2013, or $232,000 per 100 grams. By 2016, the price of 100 grams dropped to $4,000. In 2021, Future Meat reportedly achieved a cost of $1.70 per 100 grams of lab-grown chicken breast. It appears we are nearing mass production.
The Climate Push
The nonprofit organization Protect the Harvest says that in recent years, partial truths, outright fabrications, even ridicule and intimidation have been used to slam our current animal agriculture system in the name of climate change.
Media acolytes are on board. A 2018 Guardian article stated the current livestock system must suffer upheaval through a 90 percent reduction in meat-eating. Only then, we are told, can we avoid deforestation, water shortages, vast ocean dead zones and starvation.
While it is true that cattle and other ruminant animals produce methane, the Clear Center explains, it’s simply a flow gas made from atmospheric carbon that’s been cycling through the atmosphere since life began. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and produce cellulose photosynthesis, a key feed ingredient for ruminant animals. Cattle break this cellulose (and carbon) down in their rumens, emitting a portion as methane into the atmosphere. After about 12 years, the methane is converted back into carbon dioxide through hydroxyl oxidation—a chemical reaction in the atmosphere. That carbon (now recycled) is the same carbon that was in the air prior to being consumed by an animal.
Ironically, lab meat also produces a lot of carbon dioxide emissions, and this type supposedly persists and accumulates for millennia, a 2019 study in the journal Frontiers of Sustainable Food Systems found.
Still, we can’t expect the climate crowd to drop the lies, because the “lab meat” industry is dominated by many of the same corporate powerhouses who control the processed foods and meat industries, according to new research from Food & Water Watch.
Every dime spent on fake meat products goes to the pockets of global agri-food corporations, several of which are giants in the industrial meat production system the products are meant to curtail. At the end of the day, it’s not about the climate—it’s a money game.
Safety and Nutrition
These “lab meats” deserve scrutiny because they are ultraprocessed. Of course, conventional commercial meats are a far cry from organic or pasture-raised beef. Multinational corporations use technology to transform every aspect of meat production, including the animals themselves.
But lab-grown meat is a processed “food” full of man-made nutrients and other unsavory ingredients, says Slate.com. Many of these are a willful perversion of basic health laws.
For example, fetal bovine serum is used to facilitate the growth of fake meat cells—and it’s obtained by draining the blood from a cow fetus. Another danger is ingesting cancerous materials as cells replicate in unnatural conditions, states the Center for Food Safety. If that doesn’t harm you, then the possible use of antibiotics in cell cultures—as well as fungicides, hormones and growth factors—will. Many of these chemical residues end up in the same water the cattle industry is blamed for polluting.
The giant vats cells grow in may also present a problem because of contamination from bacterial or fungal growth, mycoplasma, growth factors, serums and antimicrobials, ResearchGate tells us.
Another concern is pharmaceutical giant Merck’s investment of $8.8 million in Mosa Meat, a lab-grown meat company based in the Netherlands, according to FoodDive.com. Merck may provide Mosa Meat with the growth medium meat cells are grown in and also share its cell culture technology expertise with the startup. Since the financial stake gives Merck an insider’s role in lab-grown meat, where this relationship ends up is anyone’s guess. It also adds to the impression that lab-grown meat is more of an experiment than actual food.
That’s the problem with this entire technology. Environmental zealots want to sell the lie that the agricultural beef industry is responsible for destabilizing the global environment and global health. Yet the proposed silver bullet—lab-grown meat—may be far worse in both environmental damage and disease-causing factors, while being a cash cow for investors.
There is no publicly accessible science that proves this new junk food is not a tragic health gamble, so we should ask ourselves if that’s a chance we want to take. Why not just purchase meat from farms with open fields, where grass-fed livestock walk under the eyes of honest, local farmers? The flavor of real meat is born in the pasture. This connection to soil is crucial for good health.