Lab-Grown Meat Is a Sustainable Alternative, but What Are the Pros and Cons of This Creation?

Lab-grown meat, or cultivated meat, is the meat-free future of food — but it's not yet a perfect solution.

Anna Garrison - Author

May 7 2024, Published 2:33 p.m. ET

The idea of lab-grown meat has been an exciting innovation in sustainability for almost a decade, but now that the USDA has approved it for sale to U.S. restaurants, lab-grown meat in grocery stores and on your plate is more of a reality than ever before. The science behind lab-grown, or "cultivated," meat involves taking stem cells from a live animal and creating an edible, complex structure.

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Tragically, not everyone sees lab-grown meat as the scientific marvel it is. In 2024, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law banning lab-grown meat, which does not include Impossible products, in the state of Florida, per USA Today. He said, "Take your fake lab-grown meat elsewhere. We're not doing that in the state of Florida."

So, what are the pros and cons of lab-grown meat? Let's explore.

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Lab-grown meat, like other sustainable innovations, has its pros and cons.

According to the Good Food Institute, Dutch scientist Mark Post revealed the first cultivated beef patty on television in 2013. By 2015, four lab-grown meat companies were founded, and by 2022, the lab-grown meat industry rose to nearly 150 companies across six continents!

There are obvious upsides to lab-grown meat. First and foremost, lab-grown meat allows for the production of meat without slaughtering or abusing animals, a frequent criticism of the animal agriculture industry. Second, cultivated meat could significantly lessen greenhouse gas emissions — as per a 2020 study in The Lancet, the food industry is responsible for about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.

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Finally, according to Bon Appetit, lab-grown meat is considered a food safety win. "In a controlled environment, you substantially reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses such as salmonella or E. coli," says Amy Chen, the COO of Upside Foods, one of the first companies to create cultivated meat.

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There are a few downsides of lab-grown meat as well. While in theory, lab-grown meat can create real meat without an animal coming to harm, the process of obtaining stem cells to begin cultivating the meat relies upon taking the cells from a live animal, typically from fetal bovine serum (FBS), which is taken from the blood of slaughtered pregnant cows, per EUFIC.

However, EUFIC notes that in 2022, several companies discovered a way to create lab-grown meat without FBS.

Second, while moving away from methane emissions created by animal agriculture is great for the planet, lab-grown meat might potentially create an even larger carbon footprint. According to a 2023 study from UC Davis, introducing lab-grown meat to the agriculture industry may result in extreme demand, leading to using more resources and inadvertently contributing to the climate crisis.

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Lead study author Derrick Risner of the UC Davis Department of Food Science and Technology, said, "If this product continues to be produced using the “pharma” approach, it’s going to be worse for the environment and more expensive than conventional beef production."

As the technology surrounding cultivated meat continues to evolve, hopefully, scientists will find solutions to the potential downsides, securing a better — and entirely meat-free — future for everyone.

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