It sounds like a miracle, but lab food, though complicated, did not need many technological leaps. Scientists in labs around the world are creating synthetic food.
So, can the world survive without any crop, milk, meat, or eggs? Can in the not-too-distant future, we all might be consuming lab food? And, why do we even need the shift to lab food?
Why Do We Need Lab Food?
The global population is on rising. With the advancement in medicine and availability of better living conditions, the world’s population has tripled in just over 70 years. Currently, there are over 7.8 billion people on the planet. By the next three-decade, it is estimated to hit the 9.7 billion mark, spiking the demand for food over 60%.
On paper, farms around the globe are able to produce ample food to feed the current population, but in the next thirty years; will the farms be able to meet the demand of these extra 2 billion people? An estimate shows, only at least a 50% rise in global food production can sustain this growing demand.
The ground reality of over 821 million going to sleep empty stomach every day is harsh but true. Every ten seconds, one child starves to death. Vast spread under-nourishment and starvation make the day’s highlight almost every consecutive day.
Farm food is not climate-proof. Every weather event has some kind of effect on our crop, be it too much rain or droughts. Earlier in 2021, the heatwaves of California resulted in hiked prices of canned tomatoes, because California alone is responsible for producing 90% of the canned tomatoes in the United States. Droughts in Brazil are hiking the prices of coffee around the world.
Humans consume 18% of their calories from meat and dairy, according to a study published in the journal Science in 2018. Yet they use 83% of the world’s farmland and emit 60% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Agricultural industrialization is enormously polluting and consuming a lot of water. Additionally, it threatens global biodiversity. A large amount of land is cleared for agriculture, which destroys wild animal habitats, ultimately leading to the extinction of species.
In theory, lab-grown food may be more sustainable than existing animal agriculture because of its high efficiency and absence of harmful waste products such as methane, ammonia, and manure. But how sustainable that growth medium will be will depend, in large part, on breakthroughs in how it is produced and what kind of energy it uses. A fermentation-based energy source — like Solein from Solar Foods — could significantly reduce production emissions, reducing them by 40-80%.
Will Lab Food Reduce Animal Cruelty?
Did you know that fetuses of dead pregnant cows are removed from their mothers who then bleed to death? This blood is then gathered and refined into the fetal bovine serum. It is on this medium that most cultured meat has been produced until now, which is not vegan-friendly.
Globally, 70 billion land animals are slaughtered every year for food. Factories are notorious for their cruel treatment of animals, who often endure brutal living conditions that ultimately result in slaughter. In contrast, cultivated meat is grown from skin cells or stem cells extracted from the animal – following a minor procedure. An individual stem cell sample could provide enough muscle tissue for 80,000 quarter-pound hamburgers.
Does lab-grown meat qualify as a vegan? In technical terms, no, since lab-grown meat still requires cells taken from animals at some point. However, organizations like PETA and Mercy for Animals have endorsed the initiative enthusiastically.
Is Lab-Grown Food Healthier?
Red and processed meat are well known for their health risks, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Are lab-grown foods healthier than those grown in the field?
Since stem cells used to grow cultivated meat are derived from muscle tissue, they do not grow fat cells. Producers can control fat profiles by adding fat to cultivated meat later. Cultured meat has the potential of being engineered to have specific nutritional profiles and, thereby, targeted health benefits for consumers. As a result, amino acids, fats, vitamins, minerals, and other bioactive compounds could be modified. It can, for example, yield a meat product high in omega-3 fatty acids, and low in saturated fat.
It’s all theoretical, of course. Whenever we tamper with nature, we risk some unpleasant surprises. Intentions may result in unintended consequences. Therefore, we must make sure that any new “meat” product is thoroughly tested by unbiased scientists before releasing it to the public. Even so, lab meat could eventually provide a net health benefit, compared to conventional meat.
The Future of Food
Some critics, however, are not in favor of lab food. Observers have noted that advocates for lab-grown meat sound very similar to early GMO advocates. It’s important not to forget that Monsanto, for example, made several claims about how GMOs would benefit the world before they were widely adopted. However, decades later, hardly any of those promises have been fulfilled. But, it cannot change the fact that around the world, nearly 1 billion people still live in hunger.
It is only possible to look at projections and theories until the technology is further developed and studied. Despite the claims made by different cellular agriculture companies, they clearly have a stake in the outcome (if not the steak! ).
However, one thing is for sure: This technology is being developed by many smart people. It has the potential to make a lot of money if it is successful. It is inevitable that what happens next will have an impact on the future of food in one way or another.