Science

Lab Meat and Elon Musk

PHOTO COMER JUST / REUTERS

Chicken made in the laboratory by the company Eat Just

Sylvain Charlebois

Sylvain Charlebois
Senior Director, Laboratory of Agri-Food Analytical Sciences, Dalhousie University

Lab-grown meat could become a reality in Canada by 2025, but the road ahead is difficult.

Posted on October 1, 2021 at 9:00 am

Leonardo DiCaprio is using his mega-ship power to invest in two young American companies that make lab-grown meat from animal cells, of course.

DiCaprio himself had invested in a plant protein company even before the plant phenomenon took hold. This business was none other than Beyond Meat, which is now worth more than $ 8 billion. He had scented the right treatment long before many of us. However, the idea of ​​replacing the animal husbandry industry with laboratories is simply fascinating.

The idea of ​​seeing humanity benefit from animal protein without raising livestock is very intriguing. In a few years, we could grow meat in laboratories, and even in our own kitchens, using small stainless steel bioreactors. All the problems that meat slaughter plants had to face during the pandemic, the shutdowns, the numerous meat recalls could be a thing of the past.

Singapore legalized the sale of laboratory chicken last year and many other countries are considering doing the same.

A report by McKinsey & Co. recently suggested that the global cultured meat market could reach $ 25 billion by 2030. Forecasts also suggest that the cost of production will drop significantly over the next nine years, from more than $ 10,000 per year. pound at about $ 2.50. a pound, a staggering reduction.

By some estimates, livestock consume about 25 calories of plant matter for every calorie of edible protein they produce for the market. In the case of chickens, the ratio of meat and plant is more efficient, since they consume 9 to 10 calories of feed for each calorie of edible protein produced. Lab-grown meat would provide a 4-to-1 ratio, or less than half of what chickens need. Comparisons even become very difficult to make. And as the Western world increasingly collects carbon and penalizes pollution, our new production and distribution economy will foster more sustainable production of animal protein.

Find the correct formula

But science hasn’t completely uncovered the mystery of cultured meat. Around the world, there are more than 100 different research projects funded by many venture capitalists and philanthropists. On several occasions, cultured meat companies have missed their product launch dates. Therefore, finding the right formula and product is not so easy.

Furthermore, the idea that laboratory meat has a future will not be readily accepted by the public. Food is part of our culinary culture and traditions that have given meat a privileged role for several centuries, at least in North America. Allowing labs to replace trusses will not be done with scissors.

More importantly, the occupation of the territory will become a very important issue. With fewer animals to feed, we have to ask ourselves what our agricultural land in the region will be used for.

More farmed meat in our diet can mean fewer farms, fewer farmers, which will undoubtedly jeopardize the prosperity of our rural economy. Without a doubt, it will be a great challenge to face in Canada, one of the largest countries in the world. Hopefully many groups will resist, as we’ve seen lately with the plant protein movement.

Labelled

Labeling will be another problem. The cost of producing lab-grown meat will eventually be lower than that of traditional products. This could make animal protein more affordable, if it is labeled that offers consumers choice. But as seen with genetically modified salmon in Canada which costs almost 60% less to produce, consumers have no chance of prices falling due to these new technologies. Some shopkeepers will publicly boycott the product, but will still sell it in a more processed form. It is a frankly dishonest situation.

Lab-grown meat has the potential to change our relationship with animal protein. But as with many other disruptive and revolutionary technologies that can better serve our planet, the change promises to be arduous.

Elon Musk understood long ago that to give the electric car its rightful place, it was necessary at the same time to eliminate the powerful cartels of car dealers, the influence of the oil industry and the incredible economic weight of the automakers. He had to develop a strong case for the electric car for consumers, and he did. Musk became the communicator and dreamer that the electric car needed and thus built an entire ecosystem to support the new technology and make it more accessible. 15 years ago, many people thought of Elon Musk as a crazy individual with outlandish ideas. His Tesla business is now worth more than $ 700 billion; a simply incredible story.

If we want to give lab-grown foods a chance to market, the industry will need its own Elon Musk. Or maybe that person is Leonardo DiCaprio.

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