April 23 2008 / by juldrich
Category: Business & Work Year: 2020 Rating: 6 Hot
By Jack Uldrich
Crossed from www.jumpthecurve.net
Test tube meat. To many people, the idea is utterly repulsive and it conjures up bad memories of eating the processed slabs of “mystery meat” they were served in their school cafeteria many years ago. To others, the idea is nothing less than the most environmentally-friendly, politically correct answer to the world’s growing food shortage problem.
So what is the future fate of test-tube – or in vitro – meat? (The picture at right is a real photo of a piece of meat grown in a lab.) My opinion is that it will start out as a niche product and overtime grow to become more socially acceptable as technology improves both the quality and nutritional value of the meat and the public comes to better appreciate its extraordinary environmental benefits.
This transition, however, will likely take decades. As a historical analogy, I would urge readers to consider the example of organic food. In the 1970’s and 80’s it was a small niche and was wildey regarded as the purview of hippies and organics could only be found in local co-ops. In the late 1990’s, organics began to pick up steam and stores such as Whole Foods sprung up and began to cater to the growing demand. Today, almost every major food chain dedicates a portion of their floor space to organic foods and many, including SuperValu, are now releasing their own brand-label organic foods. (To the conservative grocery industry such a scenario would have seemed almost impossible even just 10 years ago.) (cont.)
In-vitro meats are likely to follow a similar trajectory. Yesterday, PETA announced that it would be awarding a $1 million prize for the “first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012.” And, as Wired magazine, recently documented in this article on in vitro meat, the field is receiving a good deal of attention from scientists across the globe.
Change is hard and I don’t expect most people to readily or easily warm to the idea of test-tube meat; but when one considers how much time and energy is spent feeding and raising animals – and how much waste is involved – I believe people will begin to see in vitro meat in a new and more positive light. In the distant future, as hundreds of millions of people around the world aspire to a middle class lifestyle and desire more meat in their diets but the world’s farmers can’t meet the demand (primarily because it takes 10,000 pounds of feedstock to produce a 1000-pound cow) in vitro meat could become an acceptable alternative.
Furthermore, it might even become the preferred choice for many people. This is because in vitro meat will be considered more environmentally sustainable because there will be no need for herbicides or pesticices. It will also be viewed as more ethical because no animals will be slaughtered.
In a world where more people desire meat but the public is growing more concerned about the environmental and ethic impact of feeding, transporting and slaughtering animals – in vitro meat could become the next “in” thing in food.
For related writings on the future of agriculture, I’d recommend these past posts: