You heard me right. A beefburger that has no contact with any animal. Science fiction? Science fact. Remember that lab-grown burger that some British scientists made back in 2013? The one that cost about £180,000 at the time but was expected to fall dramatically in price over time? Well… That was two years ago. Things have changed now. The technology has got a lot less expensive, and there has been buckets more funding for this kind of project. The burger now no longer costs £180 grand.
It costs £6.00. $9.00. €8.00. 56.00 Chinese Yuan. Or about the cost of a high-quality burger.
In other words, it’s getting commercially viable to manufacture this stuff by the thousands of tonnes. And when you completely reimagine the way that you generate meat, there are going to be some interesting conflicts.
But first, some background. The lab-grown hamburger is made by harvesting the muscle tissue from a living cow (painlessly, or so the website tells me) and growing it the same way you grow bacteria in a Petri dish. The expensive part is getting the conditions exactly right so the meat grows itself without needing too much input. If you’re growing an individual burger in a lab, the cost of all the equipment falls on one burger. But if you grow ten thousand at a time, the cost gets pretty low.
There are lots of reasons that lab-grown meat is very good. Obviously no animals are harmed in the making of the meat, aside from the initial extraction. In terms of the ecological footprint (cows one of the biggest contributors to methane production and are responsible for more of climate change than cars – most of which they generate through farting and burping) the lab-grown wins every time. The land footprint needed for the lab burgers is also much lower – approximately the size of one Petri dish per burger. And production is much, much higher – one cow can generate over 135 million burgers. All good, right?
But here is the interesting question. If you were a vegetarian/Halal/vegan/Kosher(if it was a porkchop), would you eat this burger?
For vegans, who don’t eat ‘animal products’, the answer seems clear. The burger is not an animal product, so eat. But for the other ones, it seems less obvious. I suppose it all comes down to what you define as meat. If meat is ‘a mix of muscle and fat cells with the DNA of animal’ then the lab-grown burger is in fact meat. But if meat is ‘a cut of flesh from an animal’, then no it’s not. If you are/know a religious leader from a religion/cult that bans a certain meat, please leave a comment with your opinion.
But there’s more! The current lab-grown burger is fairly simple from a biological level – just the same cell type replicated a few million times. But with the funding that a commercial launch would provide, you could achieve much more. Things like square eggs! Or chops of meat that look like miniature cows (which would be kinda gross)! Or chicken burgers that look like burgers! Or meat that tastes spicy before you even cook it! Or human burgers!
Would lab-grown human burgers even count as cannibalism? I don’t even know what that means any more. Help.