Could the future of farming change as animals are used only for stem cells to create lab-grown synthetic meat? Two Dutch researchers believe so. Part of the problem, however, is convincing the public how appetizing a hamburger is when its made from synthetic meat. While changes to farming procedures are necessary, the public may not be ready to wrap their minds around meat patties made from animal stem cells.
The idea was explained in a report published on May 20 in Trends for Biotechnology. Philosopher Cor van de Weele and biotechnologist Johannes Trampler from the University of Wageningen are the authors and they detailed their alternative to animal slaughtering. They view the plan to create synthetic meat as a way to prevent animal cruelty related to farming. As van de Weele explains, “we could have our pig – or cow, or chicken – and eat it too.”
The idea comes out of concern for animals, as well as what current meat production processes are doing to the land. They have created an alternative involving the growth of synthetic meat in a lab, which could be produced on a much larger scale over time. The process still involves animals, but from another standpoint. The animal muscle cells are synthesized using tissue engineering techniques.
Another issue that synthetic meat would solve is the local aspect. More and more people want locally grown food. The idea is to have a stem cell meat factory in every city.
With the recent recall on beef and the ongoing concerns some people have over the GMOs and poor treatment given to farm animals, it seems like synthetic meat is an option worth exploring.
Not everyone is on board with the future of synthetic meat grown from stems cells, however. The real question is whether the meat is appetizing. Critics, like food activists Danielle Nierenburg, believes the taste factor will limit its success. She refers to it as the “yuck factor.” She suggests that instead of using animals to create a strange synthetic version of meat, that people should simply eat less meat and farmers should return to a simpler way of farming that puts less stress on the animals.
When the researchers presented the synthetic meat to a focus group, they found that older people were more receptive to the idea than younger people because they have a better understanding of the issues with meat production today and the dangers in the meat in the food chain. Researchers also found that the public views the meat grown from stem cells as “technological” and “unnatural” van de Weele said that, “the idea of local production and close contact with the animals seemed to dispel these concerns.”
The synthetic meat plants could realistically produce 28 tons of meat per year. That is enough to feed 2.500 people, the researchers said. There are still more hurdles to jump before making synthetic hamburger patties a part of everyday life though. The cost of getting started is one roadblock and receiving FDA approval is another, but getting the public to perceive the synthetic meat grown from stem cells as appetizing is probably the biggest challenge to get through.
By Tracy Rose