Can ‘Test-Tube Meat’ Cure Hunger and Agricultural Pollution?

Grilled hamburger‘Test-tube meat’ may soon be coming to the modern-day Happy Meal. It sounds strange, but scientists are closer now than ever to successfully producing lab-grown meat at the price of a gourmet burger.

Dutch researchers from Maastricht University in the Netherlands shocked the world two years ago when they presented their $330,000 burger grown from in-vitro cattle stem cells. Since making the big debut, scientists have been able to drastically cut the production costs of their frakenburger down to a measly $11.36.

Now, the only question left to ask is: Even with a new $11 price tag, who will be brave enough to eat it?

Scaling production and viability for artificial meat is not the only factor at play here. Beyond mastering a meat-like taste that consumers will buy into, some of the tenets behind the research and experimentation with animal stem cells seek to provide the innovative answer to some of our nation’s greatest challenges: alleviation of hunger and environmental degradation.

The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that feeding a growing population (expected to reach 9.6 billion people by 2050) will be top of mind over the next few decades. Though WHO reports that our nations produce enough food to feed nearly every human being on the planet, distribution of said food — coupled with social barriers and the perils of poverty in all societies — require that farmers (or scientists) invest in creative thinking and planning on how we will grow and preserve enough food to feed the world.

Conjointly, global meat production tells of the existing detriments our food supply has on our environment. In a 2013 article, Time magazine reported: “There might be no other single human activity that has a bigger impact on the planet than the raising of livestock.”

A full-scale study published by researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America reveals:

“Livestock production impacts air and water quality, ocean health, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on regional to global scales and it is the largest use of land globally. Quantifying the environmental impacts of the various livestock categories, mostly arising from feed production, is thus a grand challenge of sustainability science.”

It remains unclear, however, whether the researchers behind the test-tube meat phenomenon seek to serve the poor or the epicure in this scenario. Chances are, an $11 patty will remain out of reach for many, despite the cruelty-free, resource-friendly attributes it boasts.

Despite the many foreseen roadblocks around lab-grown meat, next on the menu could be chicken. Reuters recently reported, “Professor Amit Gefen, a bioengineer at Tel Aviv University, is in process of a year-long feasibility study into manufacturing chicken in a lab, funded by a non-profit group called the Modern Agriculture Foundation which hopes “cultured meat” will one day replace the raising of animals for slaughter.”

While you may not find poultry grown in a petri dish to be appetizing, the benefits of engineering our food could prove to be a solution to agricultural waste and pollution. Innovation is certainly welcomed — even if it means providing unconventional solutions that need to be covered in barbecue sauce before being served to society.

Image credit: James Palinsad Flickr

Sherrell Dorsey

Sherrell Dorsey is a social impact storyteller, social entrepreneur and advocate for environmental, social and economic equity in underserved communities. Sherrell speaks and writes frequently on the topics of sustainability, technology, and digital inclusion.