Cultured meat to go beyond the lab

Cultured meat to go beyond the lab

Opinion
Future Farmers Network director Isabel Coulton says the livestock sector may need to accept the development of lab-grown meat rather than resist the perceived threat.

Future Farmers Network director Isabel Coulton says the livestock sector may need to accept the development of lab-grown meat rather than resist the perceived threat.

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The creation of cultured or lab-grown meat has been in the works since the 2000s when NASA researched the idea for astronauts in space.

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In 1941, Winston Churchill envisioned that lab-grown meat would be a reality in the future. Indeed, the creation of cultured or 'lab-grown meat' has been in the works since the 2000s when NASA researched the idea for astronauts in space.

It essentially involves the production of synthetic 'meat' from animal stem cells, and whilst there is no commercially available product on the market in Australia at the moment, many sources suggest that lab-grown meat will be on shelves by 2021.

The commercialisation of lab-grown meat promises to the public a range of benefits such as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, improving resource depletion from factory farming and combating antibiotic resistance.

Does this then pose a threat to the agriculture livestock industry as we know it?

There is no doubt that the agriculture industry has reaped the benefits of technology throughout the years, but it may be presumptive to see lab-grown meat as a negative 'disruptor' to the current industry.

Despite all the headlines, the real tangible benefits of lab-grown meat for the everyday consumer may be greater than what the hype suggests.

Scalability and cost are the two major issues that the cellular meat industry has yet to provide a practical solution, and the thought of mass commercial production is still in its very early stages.

However, in circumstances where the cultured meat movement has to date gained substantive financial backing to develop solutions to these impediments and cement lab-grown meat in the consumer market, it may be that the livestock sector needs to accept and adapt to the development rather than resist the perceived threat.

Lab-grown verse natural.

Lab-grown verse natural.

There are possibilities for the two industries to exist in the same sphere.

Lab-grown meat is predominantly responding to the global consumer trends of health and wellbeing and ethics and sustainability - two trends which can also be responded to by the Australian livestock sector through the improvement of health and wellbeing of animals, sustainable environmental practices and, critically, the promotion of the integrity of the industry and its practices to the consumer.

At the end of the day, the consumer is increasingly seeking a natural, unadulterated food product - which the red meat industry of Australia is able to provide.

As is a natural consequence of competition generally, this new market may be the push required for the livestock industry to sharpen its practices and remain a viable option for consumers.

  • Isabel Coulton is a Future Farmers Network director
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