For those who contemplate the future, it seems as if clean meat (real meat grown from animal cells) is likely going to be a fact of life rather than a mere fantasy of animal welfare and environmental advocates.
Although most people enjoy the taste of meat, conflicted feelings often arise when the reality of factory farms is discussed. These days, though, many scientists and investors are betting that such conflicted feelings may become a thing of the past. For people who crave the advantages of meat without the downside, clean meat in the coming years may offer an exciting alternative—and it’s already being tested today. In fact, I’ve eaten it several times now.
Over the past 50 years, human beings have doubled our meat consumption, creating a number of problems. First, animals require farmland, meaning that many rainforests and other wildlife habitats have been chopped down to produce more meat. These farm animals also need water and feed, which puts a strain on the environment as well. With the world’s population continuing to climb—and the demand for meat higher than ever before—eating a high-meat diet doesn’t seem as if it will be a sustainable proposition for much longer.
But what about those who still want to regularly include meat in their diets (i.e., nearly everyone)? For them, the ability to enjoy real meat divorced from such downsides may become a reality within years, not decades. And it could just do more to help protect the planet than nearly anything else realistically on the horizon right now.
Still, there’s much work left to do. Clean meat is still astronomically expensive. There are potential government regulations that could be helpful or crushing depending on how they’re written. And course, consumers need to be assured that such meat is safe and nutritious.
However, in the years since scientists first started harvesting stem cells and building meat from the ground up, a lot has changed. Today, clean meat often tastes fairly indistinguishable from conventional meat, and although the first few pieces of meat grown in the Netherlands may have cost more than a quarter of a million dollars per burger, clean meat has now come down orders of magnitude.
With tissue engineers and stem cell experts chomping at the bit to make clean meat a reality, it seems as if it only a matter of time before we start to see these products popping up in our local grocery stores or even being delivered to our doorsteps. Such a future isn’t imminent in the next couple years, but starting in the early 2020s, don’t be surprised if what we think of as futuristic meat today becomes the norm of tomorrow.