In 2014, the United Nations issued a report claiming that at current rates of soil degradation “all of the world’s topsoil could be gone within 60 years”.
The production of livestock is responsible for 14 to 18% of our greenhouse emissions and takes up to 70% of all agricultural land. Most of the world’s crops are used to sustain livestock and it is a major cause of deforestation and water contamination, problems which farther aggravate climate change and the health of our ecosystems.
While the world population has doubled over the last 50 years, the amount of meat produced has more than quadrupled – in fact, if the world ate as much meat as the top 20 meat-eating countries, the whole surface of habitable land would have to be used to feed people, and, even if packing animals together, that still wouldn’t be enough. Moreover, factory farmed animals are fed antibiotics: in the US, more than 70% of all antibiotics sold each year now go to farm animals, which has lead many to speculate that the industry is fueling the risk of a deadly pathogen that is resistant to bacteria, a so called super bug, that will have consequences greater than the current Covid-19 pandemic.
By changing the way we grow meat, or our meat consumption habits, this diagnostic would improve significantly. However, what if we could grow all our food from a lab? Meat might not be the only lab-grown product of the future.
Lab-grown meat, as the name suggests, consists on creating a piece of meat through cell culture. Initially, a small segment of cells tissue is taken from an animal and subsequently, added to a growth medium – like a soup that provides proteins, vitamins, sugars, and hormones. Along with a temperature-controlled environment, the cells are tricked into thinking they are still inside their owner, hence growing and replicating themselves. This process takes between two to six weeks, and the final product is a doughy chunk of meat, close to minced meat, which will then give rise to our everyday meat-products.