Sure, lab-grown meat sounds like the stuff of sci-fi movies set far into the future—but what if we told you it could be in your local grocery store by late 2018?
Turns out, Hampton Creek—the company behind a variety of vegan packaged foods from mayo to cookie dough to salad dressings—is planning to make that happen.
Last week, the company announced that it’s been working on technology to produce lab-grown meat and seafood; and in an interview with Quartz, the company’s CEO Josh Tetrick said they’ll have product on store shelves by the end of next year. Other startups working on so-called “clean meat” produced in a lab aren’t expected to get anything to market until 2021.
While this lab-grown meat is expected to cost up to 30 percent more than its real meat counterpart, price will supposedly decrease over time, and Hampton Creek estimates that production will be 10 times more efficient than traditional meat production—using less water, land and energy, according to a SFGate article.
Excited? Scared? Confused? Wondering what the heck lab-made meat even is? Let us (try to) explain. While many of the specifics remain under wraps, lab-grown meat is essentially produced by culturing (a.k.a. growing in an artificial medium) meat cells in large vats. Of course, meat cells won’t reproduce on their own, so something needs to be added to the mix to make that happen. Enter: fetal bovine serum, a nutrient-rich component of blood that’s extracted from the hearts of cow fetuses, and that is commonly used in scientific labs to culture various types of cells.
The process results in small bits of meat with the same molecular structure as regular meat that can be treated like ground beef when mixed together. (Sorry, no lab-grown T-bone steaks just yet.)
This, however, means that—as it is currently made—lab-grown meat isn’t vegetarian, and may not be so ethical either, since the process by which fetal bovine serum is obtained does not result in the fetus surviving, and may actually cause pain to the fetus before it dies. (Here’s why it’s more important to be an ethical omnivore than a vegetarian.)
But, according to the Quartz article, the director of Hampton Creek’s biochemistry division Viviane Lanquar says that the company’s scientists are investigating other ways to trigger meat cells to reproduce such as replacing the cow blood with nutrients coming from plants.
Clearly, more progress needs to be made before lab-grown meat is an affordable and appealing protein option—and even then, we have a feeling that environmentally conscious consumers are going to need some pretty compelling evidence that this stuff is the eco meat we’ve all been waiting for. (These are the 6 healthiest meats for you and the planet.)
Our advice: If you want to reduce your carbon footprint and promote more humane treatment of animals, seek out organic, grass-fed or pastured meat options, and replace or supplement some of your animal protein with protein-rich organic vegetables.