On August 5, 2013, a media event in London featured the first ever hamburger made from in vitro, “lab grown,” meat (IVM). For decades, the idea of IVM has been thrown around, but recently the concept has gained more interest and as a result, funding.
IVM is produced from a sample of animal muscle cells that are cultured in a lab. Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands engineered the cultured beef for the London media event in 2013. He used blood drawn from a cow fetus in culture medium to grow the IVM.
This “hamburger” costs $345,250 to produce. However, it is expected that in the long term, IVM could eventually be less expensive than traditionally farmed beef. This possibility is not so far off, as researchers expect IVM could be commercially available within the next decade.
There are several benefits and consequences to note when considering IVM. An analysis of public perception to the idea of “test tube meat” was conducted using online commentary about various IVM-related articles. The articles came from the top five online daily newspapers in the United States: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post. An additional two articles came from the online news sources CNN and National Public Radio (NPR).
Across all articles, 18% of comments were positive towards the idea of IVM, 30% were negative, 5% were skeptical but not opposed to IVM, and 36% were neutral. Many people who felt positively about IVM mentioned the potential of IVM to reduce spread of foodborne illnesses, cause less environmental damage by cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions, reduce animal suffering, and resolve food concerns worldwide.
Some people who felt negatively about IVM questioned what would happen to farm animals if they were no longer needed for food production. Others outright defended the idea of killing animals for food as part of the natural order. Another concern about IVM was how “unnatural” it seems. In an age where dystopian novels and movies are a popular form of entertainment, potential consumers of IVM are concerned about the unnaturalness of “test tube”/”lab grown” meat.
Also, there are economic repercussions to IVM since farmers and slaughterhouses will no longer be needed as suppliers of meat. Will “real” meat become a delicacy? Or will traditional methods of obtaining meat become obsolete if scientists are able to create lab grown meat that has the same taste and texture of a conventional piece of meat? How will this trend cause a shift in power for the food system? People considering IVM have raised these questions and will continue to do so until more research on this subject progresses.
Laestadius, L., & Caldwell, M. (2015). Is the future of meat palatable? Perceptions of in vitro meat as evidenced by online news comments. Public Health Nutr. Public Health Nutrition, 2457-2467. Retrieved October 29, 2015, from http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FPHN%2FPHN18_13%2FS 1368980015000622a.pdf&code=eb38de27e5e263dc5e74d9e8bd98cb77