In the guide below, we list some of the potential pros and cons (benefits & drawbacks) of lab grown meat.
(*Note: cultured meat is also referred to as lab grown meat, or clean meat (along with other names too), for marketing purposes. These names generally refer to products that use cellular agriculture over conventional agriculture for meat type products)
Summary – Pros & Cons Of Lab Grown Meat
May help meet the food demands of a growing population now, and in the future
May help address world hunger in some ways
May help minimize the potential negative sustainability/environmental effects and potential animal cruelty issues of livestock agriculture
May help free up some space and resources for other uses
Lab grown meat produces meat specifically (not bones, organs etc. like livestock agriculture does)
Technology for lab grown meat may be showing improvement in some ways
May have potential to be animal origin free in the future
May make use of renewable energy in the future (which may help make the energy footprint of production more sustainable)
Some cultured meat might be produced far quicker than conventional farming
Lab grown meat might be modified for beneficial purposes
May minimize some risks associated with animal farming
Might be made to be more more consistent in terms of quality
May have economic benefits
May be available in some supermarkets soon
Prices may get more affordable in the future
The need for lab grown meat is questioned by some – given that we already produce enough food for the world’s population
The claimed causes of world hunger and food security are caused by problems that the production of lab grown meat might not solve
Affordability might be one of the main issues – production cost has been a major barrier thus far
There are possibly better, cheaper and more effective ways to produce food for the human population
Where the goals are decreasing air pollution and decreasing greenhouse gases – focusing on improvements in the energy generation and transport sectors could be more effective
Lab grown meat does not yet prevent the use of animals for meat
Lab grown meat might have some similarities to growing feed for livestock, and be similarly inefficient
There are potential benefits of land based agriculture to consider (compared to lab grown meat)
Some other types of livestock farming, like sustainable, organic, and open pasture farming, may actually be better environmentally and from a sustainability perspective compared to lab grown meat
Lab grown meat might have some of the same ethical concerns as GMOs
The taste of some lab grown meat products might not be to some people’s liking at this point in time
The nutrition included in some some lab grown meat products might be questioned
May replace some existing land based livestock agriculture jobs in the economy
Some people just don’t have a preference for lab grown meat
Lab grown meat might use a lot of resources and have a significant environmental footprint in some instances
Some people argue that investment in lab grown meat should instead be put into plant based and vegetarian type diets which might have a higher feeding capacity and provide many benefits meats do not
There may be potential issues over marketing, labelling and regulations of lab grown meat in the future
Plant based artificial meat faces some current challenges
On one hand, cultured meat products might reduce some of the environmental impact and animal cruelty concerns associated with some types of conventional farm agriculture used to produce animal meat in a traditional way.
Lab grown meat may also become more affordable to produce in the future.
On the other hand, skeptics of cultured meat might point to it’s cost, and scaling and regulatory challenges, as well as the fact that it still needs energy and other resource inputs to produce (when comparing it to other meat production options).
There may also be other solutions to larger food and agriculture related issues that society faces, that we don’t necessarily need lab grown meat to solve.
*Note – these are general pros and cons of lab grown meat.
Ultimately, the final pros and cons depend on the individual lab grown meat producer and sellers (how they source, produce, deliver, and sell their products).
Potential Pros Of Lab Grown/Cultured Meat (Benefits)
May Help Meet The Food Demands Of A Growing Population Now, & In The Future
According to some estimates, the world population is expected to grow from from the 7.7 billion on Earth right now, to between 10 to 13 billion people between the years 2050 and 2100.
Lab grown meat is seen by some as another form of food we can use for the increase in food demand, especially on meat products, that this increase in population might have.
May Help Address World Hunger In Some Ways
According to some reports, there are still hundreds of millions of people in the world that don’t have access to food at all, or don’t have enough food.
This number is forecast to increase into the billions in future years.
Lab grown meat is seen by some as one way to create more food to feed the world’s people that still go hungry
May Help Minimize The Potential Negative Sustainability/Environmental Effects & Potential Animal Cruelty Issues Of Livestock Agriculture
There might be environmental, sustainability, and animal ethics/morality effects of livestock agriculture and conventional meat production to consider.
– Environmental Degradation, & Use Of Resources
Use of land and water is a sustainability concern (we would presumably save a lot of land and water via irrigation and other uses by switching to primarily lab grown meats), and there are pollution concerns to soil, air and water sources from fertilizers, pesticides, manure, greenhouse gases and general degradation of fertile top soil and land
Deforestation (loss of trees), loss of biodiversity, and land degradation are issues.
Animals themselves burp and fart out methane.
Some studies say lab grown meat uses up to 96 percent less water and 99 percent less land and produces up to 96 percent less greenhouse gas (eatingwell.com).
– Animal Cruelty & Ethics Concerns
There are also potential cruelty and morality concerns with farming animals for food and animal products.
Beef in particular can have a range of issues compared to other meats.
Although lab grown meat still uses animal origin growth mediums, some say the amount of animals that suffer in total, and how much they suffer, is greatly reduced with lab grown meat.
As just one example, there is ‘no kill’ lab grown meat, that doesn’t involve the slaughter of animals, that has been approved for sale by a regulatory authority for the first time, in Singapore in 2020 (theguardian.com). The meat is grown in a bioreactor and then combined with plant based ingredients.
Other sources indicate ‘… [in the next 20 years, there will be a] reduction in the number of cows from 1.2 billion to 30,000 worldwide (forbes.com).
A reduction in the number of cows is also a reduction in things like cow burps, cow farts, cow manure – all of which produce emissions or pollutants in some way, shape or form.
May Help Free Up Space & Resources For Other Uses
Related to the last point, the land we save, the water we save (if any), and the resources we save (if any), would all theoretically be freed up for other uses.
Lab Grown Meat Produces Meat Specifically, Without Other Parts Of The Animal Body
Lab grown meat can grow only the meat, and not the bones, organs, and other parts of livestock that we usually don’t want for prime meat cuts.
In this way, the resource use and the process itself might be more efficient in some ways
Technology For Lab Grown Meat May Be Showing Improvement In Some Ways
As lab grown meat technology advances, taste and texture, and other aspects of the prodcut may improve.
May Become Animal Origin Free In The Future
If advances can be made with genetic engineering and using plant based materials and cells.
Hybrid plant origin clean meat might be a realistic option in the future
There already exists plant based meat products as an alternative to lab grown meat and real meat, although, plant based meat products may come with their own set of potential pros and cons to consider.
Labs & Factories May Make Use Of Renewable Energy In The Future
There isn’t a lot of data released about how energy intensive (in terms of power and electricity used) lab grown meat it, or, the types of energy most commonly used for labs and production.
But, it’s conceivable that in the future, at least a partial supply of electricity used could be renewable (such as solar, wind, water etc.), and this may help with the energy footprint of lab grown meat
Some Cultured Meat Might Be Produced Far Quicker Than Conventional Farming
i.e. production to the point that a meat product like a steak can be produced
‘Cultured cells double in number every few days, meaning that cultured meat could also be produced far quicker than conventional meat … [and some start ups] claim that [they] can produce a batch of cultured steaks within three weeks, a much shorter timeframe than the two years it takes to grow a cow (idtechex.com)
Lab Grown Meat Might Be Modified For Beneficial Purposes
Such as healthier, cleaner and better meat products.
As a few examples of the changes that can be made:
– Producers can control the fat and protein content
If we take fat for example, lab grown meat could be produced to contain more omega-3 fatty acids and less harmful fats.
– They can also control the taste and other features like whether it is boneless
May Minimize Some Risks Associated With Animal Farming
Such as animal diseases, and the use of antibiotics, and also growth hormones
Might Be Made To Be More Consistent In Terms Of Quality
Produces may be able to control the standard/quality or consistency of the meat better compared to farm grown meat, which can vary in quality.
May Have Economic Benefits
Such as creating more employment opportunities – lab and factory workers, researchers, scientists, meat producers, etc.
May Be Available in Some Supermarkets Soon
‘… the first cultured meat products are expected to appear in supermarkets as soon as 2021’ (forbes.com)
Prices May Get More Affordable In The Future
If lab grown meat becomes cheaper to produce in the future, it may become more affordable to purchase too.
Potential Cons Of Lab Grown/Cultured Meat (Disadvantages)
The Need For Lab Grown Meat Is Questioned By Some
We can already feed a population of 10 billion people with the world’s current food production supply.
The answer may lie in distributing this food supply more effectively instead.
The Claimed Causes Of World Hunger & Food Security Are Caused By Problems That The Production Of Lab Grown Meat Might Not Solve
The causes of world hunger are political, economical and logistical, and lab grown meat might not do anything to change that
Poverty, and a lack of infrastructure, technology and resources (to grow food, deliver/transport food, and keep it fresh until it gets to market) in developing countries are some of the the main reasons people go hungry in some regions of the world.
Even when considering food waste and food loss, we see that lower income and less developed countries can find it more difficult to protect produced food between the farm and transport to food markets and supermarkets. So, more investment might be concentrated here instead.
Affordability Might Be One Of The Main Issues – Production Cost Has Been A Major Barrier Thus Far
Currently, the production cost of cultured meat in a lab is expensive compared to the amount of meat it can produce i.e. it can’t be grown or produced affordably with any type of scale required for mass consumption.
However, there is work being done to try change this.
… new investors and companies are currently trying to make the costs much more affordable by taking the process from the lab to a manufacturing facility, and making a new biomass product for $10 a pound, and $4 a pound for a plant-based meat substitute (techcrunch.com).
[What is also clear, is that cultured meat is decreasing in cost per pound over time, and there are some optimistic views that with new factors such as a more efficient bioreactor and a distributed manufacturing model, cellular agriculture will become very competitive with animal and traditional agriculture] (fastcompany.com)
There Are Possibly Better, Cheaper & More Effective Ways To Produce Food For The Human Population
Some argue that moving towards more plant based diets (or diets with less meat, dairy and animal products) make better use of resources, and are cheaper, more effective, quicker to implement and healthier than what lab grown meat can offer as a food source (both in the present and future).
We also already have several plant based meat substitutes on the market such as various types of vegan or vegetarian patties and steaks.
Where The Goals Are Decreasing Air Pollution & Decreasing Greenhouse Gases – Focusing On Improvements In The Energy Generation & Transport Sectors Could Be More Effective
Agriculture only produces about 9% of total greenhouse gas emissions in some countries.
Comparatively, transport, electricity generation, and industry produce almost 80% of total GHGs combined (theconversation.com).
If there is concern over GHG emissions and other environmental issues – it might make more sense to focus on these sectors first, rather than food and agriculture.
Although methane and nitrous oxide are generally most abundant from agricultural activities compared to other sectors – so, there’s some validity here.
Having said this – rice paddies (that grow in anaerobic conditions or with lots of water) are one of the major emitters according to some reports, and rice is obviously not a meat.
Lab Grown Meat Does Not Yet Prevent The Use Of Animals For Meat
Currently, lab grown meat may still involve:
– Harvesting of animal cells for cultures
– Using the blood of foetuses from slaughtered pregnant cows as the growth medium
This is a similar principle to lab grown diamonds that still need carbon seed material from pre-existing diamonds to be formed and grown
So, to mass-produce laboratory-grown meat on an ongoing basis, scientists would still need a supply of live pigs, cows, chickens and other animals from which to take cells.
Until an option is developed that doesn’t require animal origin cells (such as genetic modification to synthesise it), lab grown meat isn’t animaln free.
Lab Grown Meat Might Have Some Similarities To Growing Feed For Livestock, & Might Be Similarly Inefficient
Lab grown meat needs growth medium from animals, and livestock need feed from crops.
Both methods of food production might involve inefficient energy conversion.
In both cases, instead of feeding humans directly, resources are being diverted to another food source that will eventually feed humans.
This is an unnecessary waste of energy, resources and time with additional steps in the food production process.
There Are Potential Benefits Of Land Based Agriculture To Consider (Compared To Lab Grown Meat)
Livestock can make use of land that we might not be able to use for crops or other food production, and we are able to get more than just meat from livestock.
We can produce milk, macro- and micronutrients, fibers, hides, skins, fertilizer and fuel; and [livestock] are used for transportation, draft power, a source of income, and a form of banking for millions of smallholder farmers in developing countries.
In addition, there are more sustainable and ethical forms of agriculture than the mass intensive CAFCO farms you might hear about in the US.
To say animal agriculture is all bad is inaccurate – there can be a range of benefits.
Read more about the products made from just cattle alone at theconversation.com
Some Other Types Of Livestock Farming May Actually Be Better Environmentally & From A Sustainability Perspective Compared To Lab Grown Meat
Examples of other types of farming might be sustainable, organic, and open pasture farming.
‘The Swedish organic method of raising cows on pastures with low fertilizer input had some of the mildest long-term impacts on global warming, though some lab grown meat processes gave it a run for its money and even bested it.
The American approach to beef production, though, was consistently the worst climate-wise’
Read more about the potential pros and cons of sustainable farming, and different sustainable farming practices in these guides.
Lab Grown Meat Might Have Some Of The Same Ethical Concerns As GMOs
Some people don’t trust GMO companies and a future with heavily genetically engineered food.
There can be a lack of trust between consumers and companies, and people also want to keep these companies accountable.
Some may view lab grown meat in a similar way.
The Taste Of Some Lab Grown Meat Production May Not Be To Some People’s Liking At This Point In Time
Some of the first lab grown meat patties made were allegedly not great tasting, or essentially tasteless.
Some lab grown meat producers may take some time before they perfect the taste of their product.
Even as technology develops, the taste of lab grown meat might just be different to regular meat, and some people may have a different taste preference.
The Nutrition Included In Some Lab Grown Meat Products Might Be Questioned By Some
Even if lab grown meat can be modified to control things like fat and protein content, some still might question the overall nutritional profile in lab grown meat products.
There are certain nutrients we may only be able to get in bulk from natural agriculture or traditionally produced meat that comes from outside a lab.
May Replace Some Existing Land Based Agriculture Jobs In The Economy
Such as livestock farming, butchers etc.
One source indicates ‘… the market share of traditional meat will drop to 40% in relation to synthetics over the next 20 years … (forbes.com).
Some People Are Turned Off By The Sound Of Lab Grown Meat
Convincing some people to eat meat grown in a lab may be difficult in the short and long term.
It’s unknown if some groups or cultures of people would ever accept it.
Might Use A Lot Of Resources & Have A Significant Environmental Footprint In Some Instances
Lab grown meat needs about 50 litres of growth medium to produce a single beef burger, and probably uses a lot of energy for the factories/labs that produce it (veganaustralia.org.au).
Unless some of the energy used is renewable energy, there could be greenhouse gas emissions
Some People Argue That Investment Should Instead Be Put Into Plant Based & Vegetarian Type Diets
Plant based and vegetarian diets may have a higher feeding capacity.
Some groups believe plant based diets are healthier too
There’s studies that link meats to various diseases.
Some people argue that a diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, nuts and seeds contains all the essential nutrients we need
There May Be Potential Issues Over Marketing, Labelling & Regulations Of Lab Grown Meat In The Future
-Marketing & Labelling
The FDA and other organisations have met to discuss the labelling of lab grown meat in the past.
One issue could be how lab grown meats are allowed to be labelled and marketed by companies.
How do consumers really know what they are getting when they buy different lab grown meat products?
This is an issue also currently facing GMO foods – people want to know what is in the foods they are buying and how it’s made – and labelling or lack of product information can prevent this, or even mislead buyers.
Related to the point above, the process behind food regulation takes a long time or might have significant ‘red tape’
This could impact how quickly products are introduced to market, or, standardised in terms of quality, safety, and other product features
3 thoughts on “Pros & Cons Of Lab Grown/Cultured Meat (Benefits & Disadvantages)”
Someone asked me are the nutrients the same in lab grown meat as regular meat as the internal organs are not present to synthesise the nutrients. I’m curious now too, how do they give the lab grown meat nutrients? Is it the same process? Does of mimic the internal organs exactly?
Sorry, I disagree with the Cons… red herrings, mostly. Meat husbandry drives deforesatation, climate change, water and soil pollution and a plaethora of parasites and pathogend that pass to wildife (Bovine TB, CJD, Salmonella etc.)
Most of the world’s ag land is grazing land and can’t be farmed, too steep, too dry, or too rocky. It burns periodically, the less it is grazed the hotter it burns. It is a question of use it or let it go up in smoke. Manure is not pollution on grazing or farm ground, it is natural fertilizer. The time may come when CAFOs are obsolete, but getting rid of grazing animals is stupidity, and game can not be managed as well as domestic animals.