No matter which side of the go-vegetarian debate you’re on, there’s no arguing that the current methods of animal farming are wholly unsustainable. Animal farming currently takes up nearly a third of the earth’s land mass, the widespread mistreatment of animals has been widely reported, and meat production is extremely inefficient. Meanwhile, researchers predict that demand for meat will double over the next 40 years. We want burgers—currently to the tune of $74 billion a year.
Which is why a group of Dutch scientists has spent years developing lab-grown meat, which they recently announced will be ready for an initial taste test by the end of the year. Using bovine fetal cells cultured like bacteria, grown in a vat, and mixed with lab-grown animal fat, the scientists are working to create test tube burgers, sausages, and more, with plans to expand to dairy and other animal products later. Though the associated costs are currently high, the hope is that eventually the technology will feed more people more efficiently—while also reducing environmental, cruelty, and illness issues related to farming—and it’s so far gotten support from several avenues, including private donors and PETA. But do we really want to eat test tube meat?
“It’s a bizarre idea,” says John Bagnulo, PhD, MPH, who teaches nutrition in Kripalu Healthy Living programs. “It makes me wonder where the world’s agricultural leaders and investors are actually looking for solutions.” Though lab-grown, because it’s derived from actual cow stem cells with no change to DNA, in vitro meat isn’t the same as genetically modified foods (GMO)—yet. But John says that it’s only a matter of time before artificial meat turns GMO. Not that we’ll necessarily know it. “The major agriculture brands—Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer—own rights to research conducted with their seeds, and argue that it jeopardizes their ‘special genetic formula’ to have that research published,” he says. “This, of course, is ridiculous.”
And no—we probably don’t want to eat it. John argues that artificial meat doesn’t make sense at the human health level, non-GMO or not. “It’s still animal/mammal protein and as such will be inherently pro-inflammatory,” he says. “The only aspect of test tube meat that could be argued as positive is the decrease in animal suffering. But I’m not sure if we can assess the life form of test tube meat. Maybe it’s actually suffering the whole time?”