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Biomedical Research

Lab-Grown Food and the Environment

With the importance of resource conservation becoming apparent in recent years, companies are beginning to experiment with lab-grown meat to make it a viable alternative to animal meat. Scientists are also beginning to examine the emergence of lab-grown meat and consider the benefits and detriments of this rapidly growing alternative.

By Saharsh Satheesh

Published 2:20 EST, Sun, November 7th, 2021

Introduction 

With the importance of resource conservation becoming apparent in recent years, companies are beginning to experiment with lab-grown meat to make it a viable alternative to animal meat. Scientists are also beginning to examine the emergence of lab-grown meat and consider the benefits and detriments of this rapidly growing alternative. While lab-based meat may bring its own disadvantages along with it, the development of the lab-grown meat industry will be imperative for slowing down the impending climate crisis and providing relief via food for countries worldwide.

For example, lab-grown meat may help the current issue of climate change. Although some consider it and the plant-based diet better for the planet, it is still an issue hotly contested among specialists. In addition, some argue that there may be the issue of monopolies attempting to exploit the lab-grown food industry. There is also the fear of the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs due to the lab-grown food industry. 

Recent Advancements

Scientists are also experimenting with plant-based bacon and plant-based tuna, among others, but it lacks the feeling of animal fat, which is what creates a satiating feeling for the taste buds. In addition, there is concern about the high sodium content in plant-based meats, which some argue is the reason why it should not be consumed on a daily basis. There is also a rapidly emerging field known as tissue engineering, in which cells are grown into organs. A similar concept is applied in the lab-grown foods industry in which cells are taken and fed with amino acids, insulin, and carbohydrates. To some, the idea of engineering meat in a lab may not be appealing; as a result, younger demographics may become bigger targets, as they will grow with the new lab-grown food generation. In addition, scientists are beginning to see vast potential in algae and fungi, which can be grown easily as they are far simpler and require less work when growing. Companies could take advantage of the immense potential here by capitalizing on the nascent lab-grown meat industry on a worldwide scale.

Recently, Singapore made headlines for being one of the first countries to approve lab-based meat for use as an ingredient in chicken nuggets. An article by the New York Times examines this in detail and explains that “‘This is a historic moment in the food system,’ Eat Just’s chief executive, Josh Tetrick, said by telephone on Wednesday. ‘We’ve been eating meat for thousands of years, and every time we’ve eaten meat we’ve had to kill an animal — until now.’”

Meats are not the only lab-grown foods being studied and tested. An example of a specific non-meat product being worked on is pea protein milk. Peas are being used to create dairy milk since alternatives to dairy milk usually lack the protein that is in regular dairy milk. The pea protein milk, however, has comparable levels of protein as regular dairy milk and takes significantly less energy to produce. Some companies also grow vegetables indoors vertically with artificial light, which uses significantly less water and land. This potentially could have significant applications in the future with arable land decreasing by the day. Agriculture has decreased the fertility of almost a third of the Earth’s soil (Guardian News and Media). Areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa are already affected by poverty and poor growing conditions, and the loss of arable land will continue to exacerbate the issue. Some European countries are also at risk; according to Guardian News and Media, “poor land management in Europe also accounts for an estimated 970m tonnes of soil loss from erosion each year with impacts not just on food production but biodiversity, carbon loss, and disaster resilience. High levels of food consumption in wealthy countries such as the UK are also a major driver of soil degradation overseas.” Thus, the use of lab-grown food along with vertical farming may help in the fight against this.

Conclusion

There are numerous benefits to increasing the presence of the lab-grown meat industry. It can allow us to reduce the rate of global warming, provide relief via food for countries worldwide, and reduce the rate of rapidly decreasing arable lands. It may not be appealing to everyone and further research and testing are still necessary, but with the best interest of society kept in mind, the benefits of lab-grown meat certainly outweigh the costs.

Saharsh Satheesh, Youth Medical Journal 2021

References

Food Revolution Network. (2020, August 11). Is Lab-Grown Food the Future? – Pros and Cons to Consider. Food Revolution Network. https://foodrevolution.org/blog/is-lab-grown-food-the-future/. 

Guardian News and Media. (2017, September 12). Third of Earth’s soil is acutely degraded due to agriculture. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/12/third-of-earths-soil-acutely-degraded-due-to-agriculture-study

Ives, M. (2020, December 2). Singapore Approves a Lab-Grown Meat Product, a Global First. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/02/business/singapore-lab-meat.html. 

McClurg, Lesley. “Lab-Grown Food: Good for the Planet, Healthy for You?” KQED, 3 Jun. https://www.kqed.org/forum/2010101883764/lab-grown-food-good-for-the-planet-healthy-for-you

By Saharsh Satheesh

Saharsh Satheesh is a junior in high school. He has a passion for biology and plans to study medicine in college.

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