Health & Wellness

Would You Eat “Lab Meat” to Save the Planet?

People would be more likely to switch from butchered meat if the press stopped talking about test tubes, according to a new study

 

Photo: iStock/wildpixel.

 

Cultured meat—that is, meat grown from animal cells rather than taken from live breeding animals—could drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and put an end to a significant amount of animal suffering.

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization, animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5 % of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. This is largely due to beef and dairy farming, since cows emit methane through belching and flatulation. If we stay on the current course, these emissions will increase as we keep up with demand to feed a growing population.

So, are consumers ready to eat meat grown from animal cells in a petri-dish?

When you put it like that, it doesn’t sound that appealing, and scientists are concerned about that. Since the media often labels cultured meat as “lab meat” or as a high-tech innovation, there’s worry that consumers won’t be inclined to try something they might consider “unnatural.”

A study published July 3 in Frontiers in Nutrition found that the messaging concerning cultured meat could be turning off those who would otherwise be interested.

After surveying 480 Americans, researchers found that respondents were less likely to be interested in replacing regular meat with cultured meat when it was described as a result of highly advanced technology. But when the emphasis was on animal welfare, environmental benefits, and the fact that it tastes the same as regular meat but costs less, respondents were less likely to be turned off.

“Many of the media reports have featured images like the petri dish and used terminology like ‘test tube meat’ to introduce this concept and the products associated with it to the public,” researchers wrote. “While fledgling ventures might welcome media interest and the benefits associated with earned media, these findings suggest that the frames favoured by the media might do more harm than good.” One researcher pointed out that when cultured meat is ready to be sold to consumers, it will be produced in a food-processing plant, as other foods are, and not in a lab.

If we genuinely want to move ahead with a more sustainable agriculture sector, researchers say, advertisers and the media will need to work on normalizing this kind of food.