Slaughter-free meat: a sci-fi nightmare or an innovative solution?


Food technology is rapidly evolving, as is our relationship to the food we eat and its impact on our bodies and on the planet. Slaughter-free meat might just be the solution we’re waiting for, but what is it, and what does it entail?

‘Slaughter-free meat’ first appeared in headlines in 2013, when meat grown in a laboratory was sold in burger form for $300,000 each, but the technology and the discussion around the subject area has only diversified in the six years since. Now, there are multiple start-ups and fully-fledged companies around the world who are offering slaughter-free meat as the next step in food science.

The meat is created in a bioreactor from cells obtained from living animals through harmless biopsies. The animals involved are not harmed and continue to live even as meat derived from their cells is grown in a lab, ready for human consumption. It sounds weird, and certainly futuristic, but has gained the support of plenty of people. Just, a company in San Francisco which sells plant-based foods worldwide, grew chicken nuggets in just two days, using protein to encourage cells from a chicken feather to multiply. Chief executive Josh Tetrick noted that ‘you just don’t need to kill the animal’ anymore, and hoped that although it was not yet commercially available, it could be in US restaurants within a year depending on governmental rulings.

“Humans have eaten meat since the dawn of time, albeit on to a much smaller degree than we do now.”

While slaughter-free meat isn’t a vegetarian alternative, it is a substitute for the practices around the world which slaughter animals in a traditional manner. Mosa Meat, a Dutch start-up, recently secured $8.8 million to ‘mass produce slaughter-free meat by 2021’. Their mission ‘is to produce real meat for the world’s growing population that is delicious, healthier, better for the environment, and kind to animals’. This funding not only showing the rapidly-growing support for the technology, but indicating the start of perhaps a much-needed cultural revolution in our attitudes towards meat and the slaughter of animals.

But is this a positive and exciting innovation in terms of human, animal, and planet health, or just the beginning of some dystopian sci-fi misadventure?

Well, let’s first look at the facts. Humans have eaten meat since the dawn of time, albeit on to a much smaller degree than we do now. Meat consumption has multiple benefits such as the elimination of certain diseases of the skin, the strengthening of the immune system, and is a rich source of protein and other essential amino acids. A lot of people would also agree that the taste of meat is another brilliant benefit, as well as that the industry provides the income of 1.3 billion people.

However, we are increasingly becoming aware of the negatives of our increased meat consumption. An excess of animals products in our diets has led to huge increases in heart disease, obesity, cancer, diabetes, and more. These illnesses, which were once incredibly rare, are now the norm, and one of the biggest killers worldwide. Multiple studies have also found that ‘eating red meat on a regular basis may shorten your lifespan’, and suggest that there is a great need to reduce the amount of meat that is eaten by the average person.

“innovations like slaughter-free meat might just be the middle ground we need.”

Further, 70 billion animals are slaughtered each year to feed 7 billion people, and in the US alone, the average person eats over 100kg of red meat and poultry each year. A fifth of meat samples in the UK were found to contain the DNA of ‘unspecified animals’ and 30% of the world’s total ice-free surfaces is used to support livestock, which decreases environmental diversity and produces more greenhouse gas emissions than cars. The UN estimates that by 2050, the demand for meat is going to increase by 70%, and that ‘current production methods are not sustainable’.

The facts are scary, but we seem to be waking up to how the negatives often outweigh the risks, and taking steps to reduce or eliminate meat or animal products from our diets. The number of vegans in the UK, for example, has increased by 350% since 2006, while vegetarianism or ‘flexitarianism’ has also become exceedingly popular.

Vegetarianism and veganism isn’t achievable for everyone—indeed, it is thought it could lead to increased rates of poverty in some developing regions of the world. So while it is certainly food for thought, innovations like slaughter-free meat might just be the middle ground we need. Lab-grown meat might promise a new way to think about meat consumption, allowing for sustainable practices which allow people to consume products which are not only delicious, but clean, safe, and sustainable, too. We should want to strive for this, to protect our planet and ourselves through brave new technologies such as this.

Slaughter-free meat will be controversial, as most new sciences are, but it could be the solution we’re looking for to solve moral, social, and environmental quandaries in the 21st century.

Esme Johnson

Featured image courtesy of Andrew via Flickr, no changes made to image. Image licence can be found here

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