The US has approved the sale of lab-grown chicken to consumers. As global meat consumption keeps rising, is this a kinder and more sustainable way to be a carnivore?
The US has approved the sale of chicken grown in a laboratory for the first time.
It’s a big moment for the two Californian companies that can now sell their products to the public, but it’s also important for the industry as a whole.
“The cultivated meat industry has been waiting for this for a really long time”, says Jenny Kleeman, author of Sex Robots and Vegan Meat.
Around the world, there’s growing demand for meat, but it’s been devastating for wildlife. More than half of the planet’s habitable land is used for agriculture. Three quarters of this is now used either to graze livestock or produce crops that are fed to animals.
As agriculture expands, it’s destroying the habitats that wild animals rely on, threatening the survival of thousands of species.
Food is also responsible for a third of manmade greenhouse gases and meat production accounts for most of that.
Cultivated meat has less of an environmental impact, but still generates some emissions, because of the energy required to power the industrial process.
It is made using stem cells acquired from animals. The cells are grown inside steel tanks called bioreactors and fed on the same kind of nutrients that nourish normal living tissue.
A kilo of it will produce around 7.5 kilos of greenhouse gas emissions.
For comparison, a kilo of beef reared the traditional way creates around 100 kilos of emissions.
Getting regulatory approval is not the only barrier to all of us eating chicken grown in a tank. The cost of production and whether people will actually eat it are also big factors.
“There have been some surveys about consumer acceptance that show lots of people are prepared to try it,” says Jenny Kleeman. “Whether or not they are prepared to use it as an alternative to meat is another question.”
Meat grown in a lab might not be a silver bullet. If we’re going to maintain a habitable planet with space for wildlife, reducing the demand for meat – especially beef and lamb – will probably have to be part of the answer too.
Today’s episode was written by Jeevan Vasagar and mixed by Hannah Varrall.